Big Big Bald Eagle Nests
Bald Eagles are the largest raptor in North America and are seen throughout the continental US, Canada and Alaska. With a wingspan of over 7 feet, everything about this bird is oversized. From a lifespan over several decades to their overall size of up to 14 pounds for females in the northern latitudes (females are larger than males and size increases the farther north they live), Bald eagles are the epitome of a really big bird.
Bald Eagles start to breed when they reach five years of age and they pretty much mate for life. This means the nest they leave at the end of the first breeding season gets repaired and reinforced with more sticks when they return every year and can attain amazing weight and proportions. A typical Bald eagle nest is about five to six feet in diameter and around three feet tall. But there are nests like one in Ohio which was used for thirty-four years. It measured nine feet in diameter, was close to twelve feet tall, weighed almost two tons and was active until the tree it was in blew down.
A pair usually builds their large stick nest close to water in a tree taller than the forest canopy. The nest shape depends on the shape of the fork in the tree where the nest is built, so there are nests that are flat, round, shaped like a wine glass…you name it. To make it more comfortable for the chicks, they first line this sturdy nest with soft grasses and moss and then often have downy feathers as a final lining.
After working diligently on maintaining or building a nest, the female will lay one to three eggs and incubate for about thirty-five days. The male will take some incubation shifts, but he is usually busy hunting to feed himself and his mate. After the eggs hatch, the parents closely care for them day and night. Five weeks after hatching, the fluffy chicks are able to stand on their own and eat the food delivered by their parents.
Baby Bald eagles are a big investment for their parents. It takes around 11 weeks for these chicks to fly from the nest. After fledging, the young birds take their time learning how to hunt and fly, during which time their parents stay close and continue to provide them with food and instruction. As the summer comes to a close, most young birds will take off and spend the next several years roaming the country from coast to coast until they are ready to breed.
If you live near any large, open bodies of water, there is a likelihood a Bald eagle may be nesting near you. This is a dramatic change from 1960’s and ’70’s, when they had a huge drop in population due to DDT and habitat loss. With tremendous effort from state and federal wildlife authorities, these birds have made comeback in the last thirty years, and in 2007 the Bald Eagle was removed from the United States’ federal list of endangered species.