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Fall is the best time for spotting bald eagles

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By Derek Lennon EBS Contributor

In 1782, the Second Continental Congress declared the bald eagle a national emblem of the United States. As the national bird and U.S. mascot, the bald eagle is easily the most iconic and identifiable bird for Americans.

After a severe population decline, the eagle became protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. Since then, bald eagles have thrived in their native habitat of North America—especially in Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Region. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of Threatened and Endangered Species in the Lower 48. Today, bald eagles are a common sight across the Treasure State.

Bald eagles live in Montana all year long, but the best time to spot one is during the fall. As bald eagles migrate south from Alaska and Canada in search of food and warmer temperatures, the Montana population increases. Keep your eyes peeled in forested areas near rivers and lakes and you’ll likely spot a bald eagle or two.

Some interesting facts about bald eagles:

-The scientific name for a bald eagle is Haliaeetus leucocephalus.
-Bald eagles only live in North America.
-Montana is home to over 500 active bald eagle territories.
-Their white heads and tails, dark brown bodies, and yellow bill are unmistakable.
-Eagles do not develop their identifiable plumage until about 5 years of age.
-They are the second largest bird of prey in North America—only the California condor is bigger.
-Bald eagles measure approximately 3 feet head to tail.
-Their wingspan ranges from 6 to 8 feet.
-Females are generally 25 percent larger than males.
-They weigh 9 to 14 pounds, but their skeleton only weighs about half a pound.
-Bald eagles have approximately 7,000 feathers.
-Bald eagles can fly at 35 to 44 mph, but can swoop at 100 mph to catch food.
-They can soar for hours at a time and reach heights of 10,000 feet.
-Bald eagles tend to make chirps and whistle sounds.
-These birds live an average of 28 years, but the Smithsonian says they can live up to 50 years.
-Bald eagles are carnivores that eat salmonids, suckers, whitefish, carrion, and small mammals and birds.
-They tend to live in forested areas along rivers and lakes.
-Bald eagle nests are called aeries. Aeries are typically built in the oldest, largest diameter trees, usually ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and cottonwoods.
-Aeries are built out of branches and sticks and then lined with grass, plants and pine needles. They are often used for multiple years.
-Nests can be up to 12 feet high, 8 feet across and weigh up to 2,000 pounds.
-Bald eagles breed at 5 to 6 years of age.
-Females lay one to three eggs in March or April. The eggs are incubated by both male and female for roughly five weeks.
-Baby eagles are called eaglets. They attempt their first flight at 10 to 12 weeks.

There’s something special about spotting a bald eagle in the wild. It’s fun to see these iconic and powerful birds soaring overhead while in Yellowstone National Park or swooping down on your favorite lake while fly fishing.

Derek Lennon is a skier and writer who lives, works, and plays in the mountains of the world. He is based in Big Sky, Montana, where he lives with his wife Mia and two dogs.

A version of this story was originally published on the Visit Big Sky blog at Read more interesting content about the area on Visit Big Sky’s blog at

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