There are two species of eagles in the United States, the golden eagle, and the bald eagle. The golden eagle lives only in the western half of the United States, whereas, the bald eagle lives throughout. In the state of Michigan, the bald eagle population during the summer is concentrated in the Upper Peninsula or the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula. In the winter, bald eagles move south to avoid the iced lakes and inhabit every county within the state.
Bald eagles are the largest bird of prey found in Michigan. The adult bird has a distinctive snowy white head and tail, brown feathers covering its body and a hooked yellow beak. The immature eagles are brown all over with a few patches of white under the wings and tail. The adult females are larger than the males and average from 34 to 43 inches long. The males usually reach a length of 30 to 35 inches long. An adult eagle’s wingspan can reach 8 feet from tip to tip.
The bald eagle prefers to live by water. During the summer months in Michigan, it nests in the forests near large bodies of water where it can easily hunt for fish and return to care for its nest. The coastal waters of Lake Michigan, Huron, and Superior and larger inland lakes are popular nesting grounds for the eagles in Michigan. During the winter months, they move south, congregating along the coast of Lake Michigan and Erie and large unfrozen rivers and lakes throughout the Lower Peninsula.
An eagle's main diet consists of fish. Bald eagles are powerful hunters that use their excellent vision to located fish from above and then dive down to catch the fish with their powerful talons. Eagles are also opportunistic feeders and will steal prey from other raptors, such as osprey, when the opportunity presents itself. In the winter when the lakes and streams in Michigan ice over, eagles will hunt small mammals and waterfowl.
Bald ragles reach sexual maturity between 4 and 5 years of age. They then select a mate that they will keep for life. The breeding season in Michigan begins in mid February to mid March when the birds return to their nesting territory. The mating pair will also perform a mating display where they fly high in the air and then dive down, locking talons and free-falling until the last minute when they release their grasp. The female eagle will lay one to four white eggs, and both partners will incubate the egg(s) for the next seven weeks. After the chicks hatch, both parents feed the chicks. The chicks will learn to fly and leave the nest in around three months, but the parents will continue to feed them until winter when they will fly to their winter hunting grounds.