Bald Eagle Facts
Q&A with Peter Nye in 2007
New York Department of Environmental Conservation

Life Cycle

Q: What does the female eagle do when she gets older?
I heard that she plucks all of her feathers out and she makes her beak fall off, then grows another and new feathers, and becomes more beautiful than she was before.

A: That is definitely not true. What is true, is that each year all eagles, regardless of their age or sex, molt (lose) and replace their feathers, so they do indeed get new, strong ones. It has nothing to do with age.


Q: Are there Bald Eagles in Rolling Meadows, Illinois? If so, would they be found in northern or southern Illinois?

A: There are eagles in Illinois! It has been reported that as many as five thousand Bald Eagles winter on the river between Cairo, Illinois and St. Paul, Minnesota, tending to concentrate near several large dams. I find that figure a bit high. But there is no doubt that the Mississippi River, in particular, with extensive open water (due to hydro-electric dams) and fish they provide, is a major attraction to wintering Bald Eagles. And, of course, you've got that famous "Quad Cities" area along the River, with annual winter concentrations of eagles.

Q: Why do the maps focus on the Northeastern part of the United States? Today, at the Heard Natural History Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney Texas, we saw a Bald Eagle flying high, over our Sycamore Trail.

A: The maps focus on the Northeast United States because that is where our eagle research has focused, and so you are seeing only a small piece of eagle behavior from one part of our country. Eagles, both wintering and breeding eagles, are found in every state except Hawaii. Many people have studied eagle movements over the years in different places around the country, but now, you are seeing just the Northeast United States research.

Q: Why do we have 20-30 Bald Eagles on Lake Macatawa in Holland, Michigan? This has not happened before.

A: I have to guess here, based on just the little bit of information you gave me. I assume you mean they are here now in the winter, not as breeding birds (or you would have noticed them many times before each summer). I wonder if your lake is open water (or partially so) or if it is frozen? I can tell you why the eagles are there, almost without question; because they are finding food there! This could either be from carrion (dead animal carcasses such as deer), or perhaps a fish-kill, or a particularly good concentration of waterfowl.

Q: I read information that stated eagles fly into storms, use the winds of the storm to gain altitude, and that they rise way above the storm. Could you direct me to a reliable source that would confirm it or deny this information?

A: I have never heard of this behavior exactly as you describe it. This sounds like stretching or misinterpreting what eagles do. Eagles definitely do use the winds (and some quite strong), as well as "updrafts" coming off hills and mountains. This helps them to gain altitude and set them up for a long, soaring flight to another location, especially when they migrate great distances north or south. This behavior saves considerable energy, and the eagles hardly have to flap their wings.


Q: What color band is U21?

A: It is "sky blue", as I like to call it. Every New York State eagle gets the same color blue band. It tells us immediately that if an eagle is spotted somewhere with a blue band, it is one of our New York birds. All color banding of eagles (and other birds) is coordinated by a federal agency, the United States Dept of the Interior, and housed in Maryland at a place called the Bird Banding Laboratory. All bird bands are issued from here and reported back here when used. Care is taken to try to assign unique colors and/or codes to different researchers at different locations. This helps to eliminate confusion when a color-banded bird is seen by someone. If only the color of the band is seen, it tells us it is from New York (if it's blue). If the alphanumeric (the letter-number code) is read, we can tell exactly where the eagle was banded or born and when (how old it is).

Peter E. Nye
New York State Dept. Environmental Conservation
Division of Fish, Wildlife and Marine Resources
Albany, NY
Spring, 2006