Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Eagle diving to catch fish at the surface of lake water
Bald eagle (Mike Whiteman)
Category: Birds
Vulnerability to climate change (More details)

Low-
Moderate

If you see this species, please share your observation using the WDFW wildlife reporting tool or email us at  wildlife.data@dfw.wa.gov. Be sure to include a photo of the species for verification and location (latitude/longitude coordinates) of your observation. 

The bald eagle is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, and has experienced recovery as a result of DDT removal from most of its range.

Bald eagles nest in large trees, usually near marine shorelines, large lakes, or rivers. They prey on fish, waterfowl, and small mammals, or scavenge. Many birds that nest in Canada and Alaska migrate south to overwinter in Washington, concentrating on rivers with spawned-out salmon, especially chum.

Bald eagles generally first breed at about 5 to 6 years of age, and adults may not lay eggs every year. They commonly roost communally, especially in winter. Bald eagles return to their breeding territories year after year and may repair and use the same nest for many successive years. They can also construct alternate nests within the territory. Territories also typically contain large perch trees.

Description and Range

Geographic range

Distribution and abundance

The resident population of bald eagles was about 1,500 breeding pairs as of the last comprehensive census conducted in 2005. This includes up to 4,000 individuals that overwinter in Washington.

Bald eagles nest primarily along marine shorelines and major rivers of western and northeastern Washington. Nests are rare or absent from the Columbia Basin and southeastern Washington, but overwintering birds can be locally common.

Habitat

Breeding habitat most commonly includes areas close to coastal areas, bays, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or other bodies of water that reflect the general availability of primary food sources, such as fish, waterfowl, or seabirds.

Nests are usually constructed in large trees. Tree species used for nesting vary and may include conifers and hardwoods. Winter roosts are usually located in uneven-aged patches of trees in locations protected from wind and inclement weather.

Climate vulnerability

Sensitivity to climate change

Low-
Moderate

Bald eagles may experience some sensitivity due to habitat and foraging requirements. Nest sites may be affected by altered disturbance regimes (e.g., fire and wind) while warmer temperatures and changes in precipitation could limit food availability and quality (i.e., salmon carcasses). However, bald eagles are opportunistic foragers and may be able to switch prey species.

Confidence: Moderate

Exposure to climate change

Moderate

  • Altered fire regimes
  • High wind events
  • Increased temperatures
  • Changes in precipitation/Altered hydrology
  • This species is considered "climate endangered" (i.e., projected to lose >50% of current global range by 2050) in the Audubon Birds and Climate Change Report, although they may be at less risk in Washington State. Warmer temperatures in Puget Sound could lead to reduced food quality (i.e., due to accelerated decomposition of salmon carcasses) and/or reduced abundance (i.e., due to higher flows washing away carcasses), and may result in prey switching.
Confidence: Moderate

Conservation

This species is identified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) under the State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). SGCN-classified species include both those with and without legal protection status under the Federal or State Endangered Species programs, as well as game species with low populations. The WDFW SWAP is part of a nationwide effort by all 50 states and five U.S. territories to develop conservation action plans for fish, wildlife and their natural habitats—identifying opportunities for species' recovery before they are imperiled and more limited.