Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
Bald eagles have a wide range throughout North America.

Did you know?

The bald eagle uses the same nest throughout its life, adding more twigs and branches each year, and so has the largest nest of all birds in North America. The biggest nest on record was three metres across and six metres tall.

Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Average weight: 2.7 kg–4 kg (male)
4.5 kg–6.8 kg (female)
Average height: 76 cm–86 cm (male)
89 cm–94 cm (female)
Average wingspan: 200-225 cm
Average lifespan: 25–40 years
A bald eagle in flight with a fish in its grip.

Our changing understanding

One of the first articles in Canadian Geographic to mention the bald eagle appeared in the 1970s and looked at how our knowledge and perceptions of both this raptor and wildlife in general have changed over the years. A picture of a bald eagle being fed in a classroom and the story that eaglets were brought to the school for the students to study are two examples of things that are unlikely to happen today.

Later articles chronicle the rare success of bringing the bald eagle back from near extinction in the United States, where it is the national bird. This great save was the result of a co-operative effort between Canada and the United States.

Although the bald eagle was in trouble in America, U.S. laws prohibited importing live birds of prey. So in 1982, when West Germany presented the United States with two eagles to celebrate the 200th anniversary of having the bald eagle as the symbol of the country, there was a dilemma. And, ironically, there was also a glimmer of hope that proved to be the saving grace for the scavenging icons. A legal loophole was found, allowing the United States to accept the gifts and save diplomatic face, and a photographer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized the opportunity to bring in bald eagles from Canada, where they existed in ample numbers.

One of the main reasons for the bald eagle’s brush with extinction was its exposure to the widely used pesticide DDT, which weakened the shells of the eagle’s eggs, causing them to crack and break. Once this link was firmly established, Canada banned DDT for agricultural use in 1970, and the Americans followed suit, albeit several years later.

A recent article in Canadian Geographic details the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered-species list in June 2007.