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The Bald Eagle is a well-known North American bird of prey. It is America’s national bird, and its image has become near synonymous with the tenets of the American Dream. A six-foot wingspan sounds monstrously huge on its own, but how does it compare to other birds?
|Species name||Haliaeetus leucocephalus|
|Population||316,000 (Least Concern Conservation Status)|
|Range||North America — Most of Canada and the US, and Northern Mexico|
The Bald Eagle is endemic to North America, found in the United States, most of Canada, and Northern Mexico. It’s a sea eagle and opportunistic hunter that feeds on fish that it swoops down and plucks out of the water. It is not bald; its head is covered with white feathers. The name ‘bald’ comes from an older usage of ‘bald’ meaning ‘white-headed.’
|Wingspan Range||Average Wingspan|
|70.8–96 inches||83.4 inches|
The Bald Eagle’s wingspan is 5.9–8 feet on average, with females being about 25% larger than males on average.
|Wingspan Range||Average Wingspan|
|Male Bald Eagle||66-78 inches / 165–195 cm||76 inches / 190 cm|
|Female Bald Eagle||72–96 inches / 180–240 cm||90 inches / 225 cm|
The wingspan is the distance between one wingtip to the other. Birds’ wings are not perfectly straight, so the wings’ span is not the length of the wings themselves but the distance between the tips of the wings.
When measuring the wingspan of a bird, a specimen is placed on its stomach. Then the wings are grasped at the wrists and ankle joints, and the distance between the two longest primary feathers is measured.
While a 7-foot average wingspan may seem massive to a human, it’s not the largest wingspan of all, or even just in North America. The largest wingspan of a bird belongs to the extinct bird, Argentavis magnificens, which sported a wingspan of over 23 feet. The largest living wingspan belongs to the Wandering Albatross, with a wingspan of over 11 feet.
The Bald Eagle is huge compared to other North American birds of prey. The Bald Eagle is very slightly smaller than its cousin, the Golden Eagle. It’s larger than the Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk but smaller than the California Condor.
|Bird of Prey||Wingspan Range||Average Wingspan|
|Golden Eagle||70–92 inches / 175–230 cm||81 inches / 202 cm|
|Turkey Vulture||63–72 inches / 157.5-180 cm||67.5 inches / 168.75 cm|
|Osprey||50–71 inches / 125–177.5 cm||60.5 inches / 151.25 cm|
|Red-Tailed Hawk||42–56 inches / 105–141 cm||49 inches / 122.5 cm|
|California Condor||100-128 inches / 250-320 cm||114 inches / 285 cm|
Bird wings are not all made the same. Aside from size and shape, different birds evolved with other adaptations to suit their environments and diets. The shape of the wings and feathers differs from bird to bird, based on their needs.
Short, rounded wings allow a bird to take off quickly, while long, pointed wings enable a bird to reach higher flying speeds and long, narrow wings are suitable for gliding. Birds that soar, meaning they use upward air drafts, tend to have very long wingspans, allowing them to achieve greater height on updrafts.
Bald Eagles have broad wings with spaces between the feathers, allowing them to soar and glide when necessary. As Bald Eagles are classified as sea eagles, they need to both glide over land and soar over the water, so their wings are adapted for both environments.
Their wings are large and heavy and take a lot of energy to flap, but they are great for riding updrafts. They are also big and powerful enough to carry both the weight of the eagle and the weight of a large fish. Eagles swoop down and pluck fish out of the water, so small; lightweight wings wouldn’t have enough strength to carry them away with a struggling fish.
Birds come in all different shapes and sizes. The Bald Eagle is a large bird of prey, though not the largest, and its striking visage is one people won’t soon forget. Still, you don’t need the largest wingspan to be an impressive creature, and the Bald Eagle impresses on many fronts.
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Featured Image Credit: Bryan Hanson, Pixabay
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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