How Long Do Bald Eagles Live? – Bald Eagle Lifespan & Facts

Bald eagles that live for 20 to 30 years

Given their status as renowned symbols of liberty and strength, you may wonder, “How long do bald eagles live?” For many years, people have been captivated by the beauty and strength embodied by these amazing birds.

As they soar through the skies with their striking white heads and powerful talons, it’s only natural to be curious about their lifespan. Interestingly, several factors can affect how long they live.

Yet, under favorable conditions, these wonderful birds can live for a very long time. This article examines bald eagles’ life cycle and the factors contributing to their exceptionally long lives. So, keep reading to learn more!

How Long Do Bald Eagles Live?

Bald eagle about to land in snow

Bald eagles live much longer than other bird species as they are apex predators. They typically live between 20 and 30 years in the wild, but under optimal conditions in captivity, they can reach up to 50 years.

Various factors have an impact on their longevity. In their early years, threats from predators and severe weather play a role.

As they mature, human-induced dangers such as lead poisoning from ammunition, vehicular collisions, and habitat loss can impact their lifespan.

However, thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, the populations of these regal birds have been steadily increasing, ensuring they continue to grace the skies for years to come.

How Long Do Bald Eagles Live in the Wild?

The bald eagle has a remarkably long lifespan in its natural habitat. Typically, they live for around 20 to 30 years.

However, there are exceptional cases where they’ve survived up to 38 years, like one particular eagle found in New York, which is known as the oldest wild bald eagle.

The initial stages of their lives are the most challenging, influenced by both nature and human activities.

Recent research reveals that while their first-year survival rate has risen to 70%, they still face numerous threats that can potentially shorten their lifespan, including habitat destruction, electrocution, and poisoning.

How Long Do Bald Eagles Live in Captivity?

Young bald eagle looking sideways

In captivity, bald eagles have a different life experience compared to their wild counterparts.

Bald eagles kept in captivity benefit from regular feedings, veterinary care, and protection from predators and other threats, significantly extending their lifespan, sometimes reaching up to 50 years.

In fact, the oldest captive bald eagle is reported to have lived until 47 years old.

During a visit to a wildlife sanctuary, I learned why some bald eagles live in captivity. Primarily, many of these eagles have been rescued from the wild due to injuries or illnesses that prevent them from surviving independently.

Seeing how well they were taken care of opened my eyes to the importance of these safe havens for their survival.

Moreover, some are kept for educational purposes. These birds serve as ambassadors for their species, helping to educate the public about the importance of conservation and the role eagles play in the ecosystem.

The Average Bald Eagle Life Cycle

From the moment they hatch to reaching full maturity, bald eagles undergo a series of developmental stages, each critical to their survival in the wild.

As we look into the various phases of their life cycle, from hatchlings to adulthood, we will realize further the milestones and challenges they face along the way.

1. Hatchlings

After about 35 to 40 days of incubation, bald eagle eggs hatch, revealing delicate hatchlings covered in soft white down.

These hatchlings, weighing a mere three ounces, are entirely dependent on their parents.

Their survival often depends on their birth order, as the first to hatch usually has a size and strength advantage, making it more competitive when it comes to feeding.

Meanwhile, here’s a video showing a mother bald eagle caring for its hatchlings:

Bald Eagle Eggs Hatch and Mother Feeds Chicks

2. Nestlings

As days turn into weeks, these eaglets, now referred to as nestlings, experience rapid growth.

They stay in the nest for around three months or until they have developed enough flight feathers and body mass to become independent and start hunting.

During this period, they transition from being completely reliant on their parents for food to learning the basics of survival within the safety of the nest.

3. Fledglings

At around 10 to 12 weeks old, the stronger and more independent eaglets are ready to spread their wings. Their first flights mark their transition from nestlings to fledglings.

They test the waters by flying to nearby trees, gradually extending their distance as their skills improve.

Fledglings typically return to the nest following their initial ventures and remain there for at least 2 to 3 months.

They continue to learn, refining their flying and hunting techniques under the watchful eyes of both male and female parents.

4. Juvenile Stage

After leaving the nest, these juvenile eagles face a world filled with challenges. Many might not survive their first winter due to harsh conditions and lack of food.

However, those birds that make it through tend to migrate in search of new territory with plenty of food. By the age of 4 to 5, they reach full sexual maturity.

5. Maturity

Bald eagles reach adulthood between the ages of 4 and 5, at which point they develop their characteristic white head and neck plumage.

At this stage, they start looking for lifelong partners. Once paired, these eagles build massive nests, usually returning to the same spot year after year.

With few natural predators, they can live in the wild for up to 30 years.

Factors Affecting the Lifespan of a Bald Eagle

Bald eagle during flight

Bald eagles face numerous challenges in their natural environment. Despite their incredible comeback from the brink of extinction, several factors can shorten their lifespan and threaten their existence.

Here’s a closer look at these factors:

  • Hunting: Bald eagles used to be hunted for sport in the past. This led to overhunting, which greatly reduced their numbers. Today, hunting bald eagles is illegal, but poaching remains a concern.
  • Diseases: Like all animals, bald eagles can fall victim to various diseases. Some notable diseases affecting bald eagles include aspergillosis, avian pox, avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM), bumblefoot, and sour crop. These diseases can shorten their lifespan and impact local populations.
  • Poisoning: Lead poisoning is a major threat to bald eagles. Eating prey that has been shot with lead ammunition is a common way for eagles to ingest lead. This poisoning can lead to paralysis, blindness, and death.
  • Collisions: Bald eagles face danger from man-made structures. Collisions with vehicles, wind turbines, and power lines can be fatal. Electrocution is also a risk when they perch on electrical poles.
  • Food Availability: Bald eagles primarily rely on fish as their main food source. Thus, changes in fish populations can greatly impact their diet. Overfishing, water pollution, and habitat destruction can lead to a decline in fish numbers. This food shortage can cause malnutrition among bald eagles, jeopardizing their health and reproductive success.
  • Habitat Destruction: Urban development, deforestation, and other human activities have led to the loss of the bald eagle’s natural habitat. This not only affects their nesting sites but also reduces the availability of prey. Protecting their habitats is crucial for their survival.

Understanding these challenges is important for the continued survival of bald eagles. Protecting and supporting bald eagles ensures that future generations can continue to admire these beautiful birds.

What Do Bald Eagles Usually Die From?

According to a recent study on bald eagle deaths in Michigan, humans pose the greatest threat to the species. The two leading causes of death identified were vehicle accidents and lead poisoning.

The latter often results from eagles consuming animals that were shot with lead ammunition by hunters or ingesting lead from sinkers used by fishermen.

Eagles are being forced to adapt as human development extends into their natural habitats, particularly along waterways, where eagles find most of their food.

This adaptation sometimes leads them to seek out and rely on alternative food sources, such as roadkill. While doing so keeps them fed, it also puts them in danger of getting struck by a car.

Data shows that vehicular-related deaths spike in the fall, while lead poisoning deaths rise during winter and early spring.

This is when frozen waterways push eagles to scavenge on the carcasses of animals shot but not retrieved by hunters, increasing the risk of lead poisoning.

Additionally, other causes of death include electrocution, injuries from trapping, starvation, and diseases.

What Are the Predators of Bald Eagles?

Bald eagle living in the wild

As large and powerful as they are, Bald eagles are not exempt from threats in their environment. While adult eagles are apex predators, meaning they sit at the top of the food chain, they still face various dangers.

One of the most significant threats to eagles, especially the young ones, comes from nest predation. Bears and raccoons are two examples of animals that may climb trees and prey on helpless eagle chicks.

Chicks could also be taken by other birds, such as owls, hawks, and corvids, depending on their size.

Moreover, some eagles nest on rocky ledges, making their chicks vulnerable to predators such as wolverines, foxes, wolves, and bobcats.

Another surprising threat to eagles is siblicide, where older chicks in the nest might attack, push out, or even kill their younger siblings to eliminate competition for food.

Furthermore, humans pose a significant threat to these birds. Bald eagles have been shot, poisoned, and harmed due to perceived threats or conflicts with human activities.

Although adult eagles dominate their territories, their path to adulthood is tough and full of obstacles.

How Old Is the Oldest Bald Eagle?

Bald eagles are known for their longevity, especially when compared to other wild birds. The oldest recorded bald eagle, known as Eagle 629-03142, lived to be 38 years old.

This remarkable bird was hatched in 1977 in northern Minnesota and has a significant history. During its lifetime, the eagle saw its species come back from the brink of extinction and even played a role in this recovery.

Eagle 629-03142 was released as part of a conservation effort to repopulate declining bald eagle populations. Unfortunately, it died in a collision in Henrietta, New York, in 2015.

Moreover, there are reports of bald eagles living up to 47 years in captivity, though it is unclear where this data came from.

How Long Can Bald Eagles Live Without Food?

Bald eagle while eating in the snow

Bald eagles have an impressive ability to adapt to varying food availability. One of their remarkable adaptations is their crop, a specialized pouch in their throat.

This crop provides eagles with a large storage capacity, allowing them to consume significant amounts of food when it’s available.

They can then gradually digest this stored food during fasting periods, enabling them to endure without food for several days, even weeks.

This ability to store and slowly digest food is one of the reasons they can survive without food for extended periods.

However, it’s essential to note that a prolonged lack of food can still be detrimental to their health and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

Bald eagle about to leave the snowy banks

What Is the Number One Killer of Bald Eagles?

The number one killer of bald eagles is lead poisoning. This often occurs when eagles consume prey that has been shot with lead ammunition.

As the lead fragments are ingested, they can cause severe toxicity in the eagle’s system. The lead affects their nervous system and can lead to paralysis, blindness, and eventually death.

Efforts are being made to promote the use of non-lead ammunition to reduce this threat to bald eagles and other scavenging wildlife.

What Happens If a Bald Eagle Dies?

The bald eagle is protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. If one is found dead, it’s essential to report it to local wildlife authorities immediately.

They usually conduct a necropsy to determine the cause of death, which can provide valuable information for conservation efforts.

The remains are then typically used for educational purposes or distributed to Native Americans for religious ceremonies, ensuring that these revered birds continue to serve a significant purpose even after their demise.

What Is the Greatest Threat to Bald Eagles?

The greatest threat to bald eagles is, undeniably, humans and their activities. Despite protective laws, illegal shooting persists.

Additionally, lead poisoning, often a result of eagles consuming prey tainted with lead from ammunition, has had devastating effects on their populations.

Further, habitat destruction due to urban development restricts their nesting and hunting areas. Addressing these human-induced challenges is essential for the bald eagle’s continued survival.

By being informed about the lifespan of bald eagles, it’s possible to create a safer and more sustainable environment for them. Feel free to share your thoughts or questions in the comment section below.


florida boy December 4, 2023 - 4:07 am

We often see bald eagles sharing roadkill with vultures. I saw a bald eagle with a young possum carcass in his claws about 10 feet above the lane I was in, near Ft. McCoy, FL. There is a growing population of them out here in the forest.

cropped Kimberly Hernandez from Bird Helpful.jpg
Kimberly Hernandez December 5, 2023 - 6:40 pm

That’s a cool sighting! Thanks for sharing your experience observing bald eagles and vultures sharing roadkill. It’s always great to hear real-life examples that reflect what we discuss in our articles.


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