Bald eagles became rare in the mid-to-late 1900s; they were victims of trapping, shooting, poisoning, and pesticide use. In 1978, they were listed for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Since then, gentler treatment by humans and the banning of DDT (the bird’s main pesticide threat) have led to their return. However, eagles still face hardships including lead poisoning from ammunition in hunter-shot prey and collisions with vehicles. Bald Eagles build some of the largest of all bird nests. Called aeries, they are typically 5 to 6 feet in diameter and 2 to 4 feet tall, ranging in shape from cylindrical to conical to flat, depending on the supporting tree. Both sexes bring materials to the nest, but the female does most of the placement. These birds typically prefer forested areas near large bodies of water such as sea coasts, coastal estuaries, and inland lakes and rivers since fish are at the center of their diet. Rather than do their own fishing, bald eagles often go after other creatures’ catches. A bald eagle will harass a hunting osprey until the smaller raptor drops its prey in midair, where the eagle swoops it up. A bald eagle may even snatch a fish directly out of an osprey’s talons. Fishing mammals (even people sometimes) can also lose prey to bald eagle piracy.
Click HERE for a Bald Eagle Activity Sheet!
Our Current Residents
Emelio: Male, Hatched 1990-92 (estimated)
Emelio was shot by a poacher causing extensive wing damage which makes him unreleasable back into the wild. Emelio came to ZooMontana in 1998 from a rehab center, Bird Treatment and Learning Center, in Anchorage, Alaska. He originated from Dutch Harbor on Amaknak Island in Unalaska, Alaska. It was initially believed that Emelio was a female until blood tests were taken in 2006. The results were conclusive and Amelia became Emelio. You can identify Emelio by his left wing which is half missing.
Tokata: Female, Hatched 1996 (estimated)
It is believed that Tokata hit a power line with the tip of her wing (breaking her wrist). Because of this injury, she is unreleasable to the wild. She was originally brought in to be an Education Ambassador animal, but it was decided to instead introduce her into the exhibit to provide companionship with Emelio. She normally lays 2 eggs each spring, but due to U.S. Fish Wildlife regulations, Bald Eagle breeding is highly regulated. The eggs are removed before hatching and replaced with fake "dummy" eggs which she continues to sit on. This prevents her from "double clutching" or laying more eggs which could lead to a calcium deficiency down the road. Emelio often sits on the nest too. After a couple of months, the fake eggs are removed and the eagles return to their usual perching spots above until the next nesting season. Tokata is usually the one making the vocalizations in the habitat and you can identify her by her left wing being 1/4 missing.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Accipitriformes
- Family: Accipitridae
- Genus: Haliaeetus
- Species: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Carnivore: mainly eats fish and sometimes birds or small rodents
- Population: stable
- Habitat: Forest
- Diurnal: active during the day