A symbol of strength and freedom.
The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was named the national symbol of the United States by Congress in 1782. This majestic bird has come to represent strength, bravery, and freedom since its designation. However, America’s mascot came dangerously close to extinction during the 1900s when their numbers declined dramatically due to habitat loss, shooting, and DDT pesticide contamination.
Thankfully, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bald eagle as an endangered species in 1967. Habitat protection, restrictions on killing, and restrictions on pesticide use led to population growth and delisting of the species in 2007. Today, Jackson Hole is one of the best places to see bald eagles, and their populations remain strong in the region.
Recognized for their black bodies and iconic white heads, bald eagles have a massive wingspan of about 7 feet. As is true of most predatory birds, females are larger than males. Although they are mostly solitary birds, bald eagles form long-term pair bonds and lay one to three eggs between February to mid-April. They faithfully return to their nests every year, especially productive ones. Because they’re a long-lived bird — one wild Jackson bird once made it to 34 years old — nests accumulate material year after year and can reach a hefty 3,000 pounds.
In Greater Yellowstone, bald eagles are usually found near water since they feed primarily on fish and waterfowl. However, eagles are also scavengers and frequently eat carrion.
The regal bald eagle is a truly incredible sight to see in the wild, and it inspires us to lift ourselves to higher values. At the same time, it reminds us of the delicate balance of nature, and the importance of conserving what we treasure most.