Discover Nature notes
They’re big and bold with a piercing call, talons, and yellow eyes. Bald eagles are fiece predators that ride high in Missouri skies and low along big waterways. Winter is prime-time for seeing bald eagles and a great time to start a New Year's tradition watching them in action.
Bald eagles get their name for their white-feathered heads. It comes from an old english world balde which means white. Both males and females have white heads. Bald eagles are sacred to Native Americans and our national emblem. Ben Franklin regretted this as he thought they were a bird with "bad moral Character" that doesn’t make its "Living honestly". Bald eagles have a scavenger nature but are also skilled hunters. They will easily steal the catches of other animals like ospreys. They’re opportunistic feeders choosing live, fresh, or dead animals to eat by what’s available. Their preferred meal is fish.
Bald eagles can see four to five times farther than humans and perceive more colors and shades of color, including ultraviolet light. They can spot a fish from a mile away. They hunt from high-up perches and hover over water scooping up fish with their talons.
Although they are mostly known for a series of "whistling peeps" type call, bald eagles also have a loud call which alarms other animals. You can hear their most common call in the media gallery below.
Bald eagles build large nests near the tops of tall trees near water and will add-on every year. Pairs will often mate for life and have a swooping, tumbling aerial courtship.
Bald eagles are a conservation success story. From a low in the 1950's, there are over 10,000 pairs nesting in the United States today, including about 200 in Missouri. Although they are no longer on the Endangered Species list, bald eagles are considered vulnerable in Missouri and are a Species of Conservation Concern.
This month there are many Eagle Days events around the state where you can view eagles through scopes, see captive birds up close, and enjoy programs and activities. It makes for a great family adventure. Find the best places to view bald eagles or an event near you on the MDC website.
The bald eagle is one of our country’s most cherished national symbols. Here’s what you may not know about this bird.
- Bald eagles are top predators, particularly of fish, as well as important scavengers.
- Fish and carrion make up most of their diet.
In Missouri, bald eagles are usually observed statewide near lakes, rivers, and marshes, particularly during the winter.
- The bald eagle’s value is hard to estimate. In some Native American cultures, bald eagles are held sacred, and their feathers are important symbols.
- Young bald eagles are nomadic and acquire adult plumage at about age 5.
- A mature bald eagle is unmistakable with its dark brown body, yellow bill, and white head and tail.
Find out more about the bald eagle with MDC’s Field Guide.