Minnesota is fortunate to be home to the largest population of nesting bald eagles in the United States outside of Alaska. In 1989, there were 390 occupied breeding areas in Minnesota, today there are over 700. The average wingspan of an eagle ranges from 7-7.5 feet. The average weight of a female bald eagle is 10-14 pounds, generally males weigh approximately 25% less than females from the same area. An eagle can see something the size of a rabbit running three miles away. They can fly up to 30 mph but can get up to 100 mph when diving for prey.
Bald eagles are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1940. The Act prohibits the taking or possession of any bald or golden eagle, alive or dead, including any part, nest, or egg, unless allowed by permit. “Take” includes to pursue, shoot, shoot at, poison, wound, kill, capture, trap, collect, or disturb.
Bald Eagles typically nest in forested areas near large bodies of water, staying away from heavily developed areas when possible. Bald Eagles are tolerant of human activity when feeding, and can sometimes be found around fish processing plants, dumps, and below dams where fish concentrate. For perching, Bald Eagles prefer tall, mature coniferous or deciduous trees that give a wide view of the surroundings. Eagles will often return to the same nest year after year if it is successful. The nest is commonly 6-8 feet across and added onto each year.
Eagles lay 1-3 eggs beginning as early as January. Parents take turns incubating the eggs until they hatch. Juvenile bald eagles in their first year of life are dark brown over their body wings, head, and tail. Their beak and eyes are dark. As they age, juveniles may show white feathers anywhere on the body, especially the breast and under the wings. The young eagles begin to fly at three months of age. Four weeks or so after they have learned to fly, the young eagles leave the nest for good.
The average eagle needs between ½ and 1 pound of food each day. However, eagles do not need to eat daily. Fish is the primary food of bald eagles, but they will eat a variety of other animals and birds. Their prey items include waterfowl and small mammals like squirrels, prairie dogs, raccoons, and rabbits. Bald eagles are opportunistic predators meaning that in addition to hunting for live prey, they will steal from other animals (primarily from other eagles or smaller fish-eating birds) or scavenge on carrion.
Adult bald eagles have dark brown feathers on their body and wings, and white feathers on their head and tail. The adult’s beak and feet are yellow. You can typically find a bald eagle high up in a tree where it can see all of its surroundings near a body of water. If you are lucky you might see one catching its dinner.
Along the North Shore, bald eagles have built nests right along Lake Superior’s shoreline, and eagles can often be spotted perched high up in trees along Highway 61. Oftentimes, when an animal has been hit by a car an eagle will quickly appear to scavage the remains. If you are driving along the highway and notice a lot of blackbirds waiting in trees along the side of the road, pay attention to what is beneath them! You may spot an eagle enjoy a meal while the blackbirds wait, patiently, for their turn.
Eagles are not migratory and will stay in the same area all year round. So you have a chance to spot one in all four seasons. Because of the lack of leaves on the tree in the wintertime, that’s usually the easiest time to spot one.