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The Hinterland Who’s Who website says that of the 59 eagle species that exist worldwide, only the bald eagle and the golden eagle inhabit North America. The bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States, lives in every state with the exception of Hawaii. The golden eagle now lives mostly in northern Canada and the western United States. These two types of eagles live in an array of habitats.
The bald eagle nests over large portions of North America. The bird lives from as far north as Alaska in the west to Newfoundland in the east. Although bald eagles exist across the entire country, in the winter most will migrate to the western and midwestern states. The golden eagle has probably never been a common bird in the eastern half of the continent. Most nowadays spend summers across Canada and into Alaska, heading south when the cold strikes. Year-round populations of golden eagles live in the western half of the country and into parts of the western Canadian provinces.
The bald eagle breeds in an area near a seacoast or along the shores of a large lake, where fish are plentiful and tall trees exist in which to build a nest. If these waters fail to freeze during the winter and allow the eagle access to the fish, the eagle may opt to stay rather than migrate to a warmer clime. Some inland eagles, though, have little choice but to head to the coast when cold weather moves in and freezes up their open water. According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, wintering eagles often share a roost at night, finding a place to stay that offers shelter from the wind and weather.
Living Near Fish
The “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds” states that bald eagles' habitat often coincides with that of the osprey, since both species prefer to be close to water. Both birds depend heavily on fish for food, but the eagle snatches fish from the water’s surface, while the osprey will plunge in and grab the fish. The bald eagle will often steal the fish from the smaller osprey when it fails to procure any for itself.
A golden eagle requires open country in which to hunt, and this is reflected in the different habitats this species chooses. Golden eagles inhabit prairies and tundra, where trees are few and anything that is a potential meal is easily visible to its keen eyesight. Small mammals and even larger ones are on this bird’s menu. Coniferous forests in hilly terrains and not thick with trees also suit the golden eagle’s lifestyle. A few golden eagles spend the winter months in the salt marshes on the eastern coast of the nation.
Although raptors like the osprey choose man-made structures on which to construct a nest, the bald eagle rarely does this. Instead it will look for the tallest tree, typically a conifer such as a pine, in which to build. Lacking tall trees, such as in a tundra setting, the bald eagle builds on cliffs, high rocky outcroppings or even on the ground. The golden eagle normally makes its nest on a cliff, but some will use a tall tree if necessary.
- Connecticut Dept of Environmental Protection: Bald Eagle
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds: Golden Eagle
- "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds"; John Bull and John Farrand Jr.; 2008
John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.