Bald Eagle
Jon McRay
Jon McRay
Bald Eagle
Pam Randles
Fall Migration Facts
  • The search for food is the reason bald eagles who nest in the northern United States and Canada, migrate south in late autumn and early winter, when lakes and rivers in their nesting grounds freeze over.

  • Bald eagles are typically more leisurely in their southward fall movements then during spring. In the fall, more suitable habitat and food is available, and there is no rush to get to a particular wintering site.

  • Northern adults begin fall migration when lakes and rivers freeze, usually migrating coastward or to open water. They return to breeding grounds when weather and food permit, usually January–March.

  • Bald Eagles use a specific territory for nesting, winter feeding or a year-round residence. The eagles that reside in the northern United States and Canada migrate to the southern climates during the winter for easier access to food, especially fish.

  • Some biologists do not characterize bald eagles as migrants, preferring to describe their movements away from and back toward their breeding territories as seasonal movements. This is because almost all bald eagles only move away from their nesting areas as far as they need to survive, meaning in order to find the food.

  • Many bald eagles along the coasts and in more temperate areas like the southeast United States never leave their general breeding areas because they don't need to move to have access food sources. They remain there year-round.

  • Migrating eagles have complex migratory patterns. Wind currents play a large role in determining their flight pattern. While migrating, eagles ride columns of rising air called thermals and can average speeds of 30 mph or 50 km.

  • In the fall, six to eight weeks after fledging, juvenile bald eagles leave the nesting area and head north on their first migration.

  • Adult bald eagles do not migrate with juveniles. Newly-fledged eagles migrate before their parents.

  • Migrating eagles fly during the day at speeds averaging 30 miles per hour.

  • Bald eagles tend to migrate in groups. A stream of migrating bald eagles can be twenty to thirty miles long, with birds spread out about a half mile apart.

  • According to telemetry studies, migrating eagles can fly as many as 225 miles in a day. The average distance per day of one of our eagles was 98 miles.

  • If there is no wind, eagles can't soar. They will stay put or only travel locally.

  • Eagles are thought to migrate during the day, primarily between 8 am and 6 pm, with most not starting until mid-morning or later, perhaps giving the sun a chance to create more suitable thermals.