Bald Eagle Life Cycle Stages – Birth to Adult
Did you realize that it takes about 5 years for a bald eagle to develop into the white headed, brown body with white-feathered tail raptor that we all know? Read more to find out about the bald eagle life cycle stages from birth until the eagle reaches maturity. Bald eagle pictures at various stages of the bald eagle’s growth are included.
Many people would not recognize an immature bald eagle. When they are born, they are little balls of fluff and grey and light brown in color.
As they eagles age, they go through a series of plumage patterns. The first plumage stage in the life cycle of a bald eagle is called a juvenile bald eagle. You will see that their eyes have not started to turn yellow yet. The head is still mainly brown.
This eagle is probably getting close to a year old. It still has mostly a brown belly. If we could see the underside of its wings, there may be some white there just as it is on the outside. Many would not recognize this is an eagle at this life cycle stage of the bald eagle.
After the first year, young eagles are generally referred to as immature bald eagles until they reach the adult stage. The eagle above is between 2-3 years old. You can see some yellow in the eyes. The base of the beak is starting to turn yellow as well. It still has a lot of brown and doesn’t have the full yellow beak. The growth of a bald eagle starts to resemble more of the adult eagle, but still not definitive.
By the fourth year in the bald eagle growth, the eagle starts to look more like the eagle that we know. Notice there is still some black on the head and the eyes are not a defined yellow yet. The beak is almost entirely yellow by this point.
An adult eagle has a full white head, full yellow beak and yellow eyes.
Interesting facts about bald eagles:
- We all love the picture of the eagle swooping in the water to catch a fish or bringing a fish in its talons back to the nest to eat. I have and still long for the same pictures. Eagles will gladly chase another bird down in order to steal its food, even if it has its own already. If you ever see a carcass in an area where there are eagles, the eagles will be sure to show up. Most times they will put on a show for you and battle over the “easy” food.
- Did you ever look up in the sky and see a large bird soar and say, “It’s an eagle?!” Eagles soar with their wings fully horizontal. Many other raptors, including turkey vultures, which I see a lot of, fly with their wings in the form of a “v”.
- “Eagle Eye” is not a myth. Bald eagles have sharper vision than people, as well as a wider field of vision. In addition, they can see ultraviolet light and you can see where this phrase comes from.
- If you see an eagle pair together, the female is the larger of the two.
- Eagles mate for life starting around 3-5 years of age. Not only do they mate for life, they both are active in building their nest and incubating the eggs as well as feeding the eaglets. From my observation, they take turns going to get food and sitting on the eggs.
- Nests are usually between 2-4 feet deep and 4-5 feet wide when built. Eagles add to them every year. They generally will end up between 6-10 feet wide and 6-10 feet high. Eagles generally lay between 1-3 eggs (rarely more). From years of observation, the nests I have seen and watched there were always 3 eggs.
- Bald eagles generally live between 20-30 years.
- An adult bald eagle’s wing span is 6-7.5 feet wide.
Comeback of Eagles
- Eagles in Upstate New York have made a comeback. DDT (dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane), an insecticide previously used, almost eliminated the eagles. In 1960, there was only one nesting pair. The Federal Government passed the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and New York followed suit with New York’s Endangered Species Program in 1976. This information is from a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) worker that I met while taking pictures of the bald eagles. Per the DEC, between 1976 and 1988 biologists collected 198 eaglets, most from Alaska, and brought them to New York State. Once they were ready to leave the nest, they began to thrive and reproduce. Due to these efforts, in 2017 there were 323 breeding pairs of eagles in New York State.
All bald eagle pictures were taken by me and this information is knowledge gained from years of photographing and observing the eagles.
Debbi Marquette Photography is located in Upstate New York at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. She is an award winning and published travel, landscape and bald eagle photographer specializing in artistic, authentic, and memorable landscape and wildlife photography. Debbi travels frequently, lives near the mountains and constantly has a camera in her hand to capture photographs so others can see the beauty of our world.
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