By Ali Dunstan

A symbol of strength, courage and freedom, the bald eagle is an unmistakable creature of nature and the emblem of the U.S.A. The bald eagle has been our national bird since 1782. With one of the largest populations of nesting bald eagles in the lower 48 states (according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), these birds of prey are quite at home here. In fact, Florida is home to over 1,500 nesting pairs of these native, symbolic birds.

Considered a sea eagle, adults can weigh anywhere from 10-14 pounds with a wingspan averaging an impressive 6-8 feet wide. Adult males are known for their stately brown bodies, yellow feet and beak and characteristic white-feathered head. In the wild, they can live from 15-30 years old.

Bald eagles are opportunistic birds of prey. Their diets mainly consist of fish, but they will also eat turtles, small mammals, carrion and other species of birds. Bald eagles prefer to live in habitats with open access to water and a plentiful food source; they are commonly found around lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal communities.

Reproduction begins around 4-5 years of age. Once paired, they mate for life and breeding pairs will return year after year to the same nest to lay their eggs. Bald eagle nests are so large that they can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. On average, bald eagles lay one to three eggs once per year. Eggs hatch on average after 35 days.

Bald eagles were once listed as an endangered species on the brink of extinction due to human activities. Habitat loss and degradation, illegal hunting and the use of a chemical pesticide called DDT were to blame. In the 1970s, DDT was outlawed and further protective legislations like the Endangered Species Act were put in place to save these magnificent birds and many other species. Thanks to efforts like this, they were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. We must learn from the past and protect the wildlife in which we coexist with.

Bald eagles continue to be protected under both the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which protect the birds, their eggs and their nests from hunting, poaching and harm. Today, populations have recovered and bald eagles soar our sunny skies as a story of success and reminder of our nation’s resilience.

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