Adults over four years old have a distinctive color pattern, with a white head and white tail, although the head can have some black flecking until at least seven years of age. During the first year, a Bald Eagle is all or mostly dark. After the first year, birds have variable mottling of "dirty white" feathers in their dark plumage until they reach adult plumage. 79-94 cm (31-37 in) in length; 178-229 cm (70-90 in) wingspan.
The breeding season begins in November and extends into May. The male and female build a very large, bulky nest out of twigs and sticks. The nest is usually built 9-18 m (30-60 feet) above the ground. Nesting sites include conifers, other trees, and cliffs. Bald Eagles maintain a long-term pair bond, and nests are sometimes reused many years in a row, with new material being added. One nest was used every year for 35 years. The female lays 1-3 (usually 2) eggs that she and the male incubate for 34-36 days. The young are semi-altricial, and leave the nest in 70-98 days.
The Bald Eagle usually frequents areas near open water. In the winter many birds take advantage of dams that maintain open water, and bird densities in these areas are high. Fish are the primary food of the Bald Eagle. It captures fish by hunting from a perch until the prey comes by, by eating dead fish, or by taking fish from a neighboring gull, osprey, or other fish-eating animal. Eagles will often also eat waterfowl and rabbits.
The Bald Eagle can be found in most of the United States except for the extreme elevations. Except during migration, it is not usually seen far from coastal areas, inland lakes, or rivers. The northern limits to this species in the winter is defined by the availability of open water. In the extreme southern portions of Georgia, Bald Eagles can be found in low numbers in the winter and breeding season. During the winter there are also occasional sightings of the Bald Eagle in other parts of the state.
The Bald Eagle subspecies H. l. leucocephalus is listed as Federally Endangered. The decline of this population was caused primarily by DDT, other pesticides, and heavy metal poisoning. These chemicals cause eggshell thinning or eggs without shells. A thinned eggshell will not usually support the weight of an incubating adult and rarely survives until hatching.
Immature Bald Eagles can be easily confused with the Golden Eagle and vultures from a distance. The Golden Eagle has banding on the tail and lacks the random splotchy white pattern of an immature Bald Eagle. The flight pattern of a Bald Eagle is distinctly different from that of a Turkey Vulture. The Bald Eagle soars with its wings horizontal or slightly drooped. The Turkey Vulture holds its wing tips up to form a "V." The Black Vulture is smaller, with a smaller head and shorter tail. The Black Vulture also has light patches on the outer portion of its wings.