Bald eagle
Haliaeetus leucocephalus
ITIS Species Code:   175420         NatureServ Element Code:   ABNKC10010
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Southern Blue Ridge:  n/a Southern Piedmont:  17 South Atl. Coastal Plain:  17
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

34.5 %
10.4 %
17.7 %
3.5 %
4.3 %
1.1 %
18.1 %
0.1 %
3.4 %
6.4 %
6.4 %
< 0.1 %
0.2 %

63.3 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

6.2 %
1.9 %
3.4 %
0.6 %
0.8 %
0.2 %
3.3 %
< 0.1 %
0.6 %
< 0.1 %
1.2 %
< 0.1 %
81.8 %

11.4 %
Abundant along the southeastern coast of the US. (Clark 1987). In North Carolina active eagle territories are known in the piedmont, sandhills, and along the coast (Foushee 1998).

Bald eagles are usually found near water, i.e. lakes, reservoirs, large ponds, salt- and freshwater marshes, shorelines, etc. where an adequent supply fish can be found. (Johnsgard 1990, Hamel 1992)

Their nest is usually in mature trees as it is one of the largest built by birds and can weigh up to hundreds of pounds. (Brown and Amadon 1968) Normally it is the largest tree, taller than the surrounding stand, thus providing an easy flight path and open view of the nesting area. (Palmer 1988, Johnsgard 1990) Location of nest is rarely in deep woods, but rather along the edge of the forest stand. (Hamel 1992, Palmer 1988) Like the nest tree, roosting and perching trees are among the tallest in the stand. (Palmer 1988)


Breeding habitat most commonly includes areas close to (within 4km) coastal areas, bays, rivers, lakes, or other bodies of water that reflect the general availability of primary food sources including fish, waterfowl, and seabirds (Andrew and Mosher 1982, Green 1985, Campbell et al. 1990). Preferentially roosts in conifers or other sheltered sites in winter in some areas; typically selects the larger, more accessible trees (Buehler et al. 1991, 1992). Perching in deciduous and coniferous trees is equally common in other areas (e.g., Bowerman et al. 1993). Communal roost sites used by two or more eagles are common, and some may be used by 100 or more eagles during periods of high use. Winter roost sites vary in their proximity to food resources (up to 33 km) and may be determined to some extent by a preference for a warmer microclimate at these sites. Available data indicate that energy conservation may or may not be an important factor in roost-site selection (Buehler et al. 1991). In Saskatchewan lakes, density was positively correlated with abundance of large fishes (Dzus and Gerrard 1993). In winter, may associate with waterfowl concentrations or congregate in areas with abundant dead fish (Griffin et al. 1982); often roosts communally at night in trees that are used in successive years. Wintering areas are commonly associated with open water though in some areas eagles use habitats with little or no open water if other food resources (e.g. rabbit or deer carrion) are readily available. Avoids areas with nearby human activity (boat traffic, pedestrians) and development (buildings) (Buehler et al. 1991).

BREEDING: Usually nests in tall trees or on cliffs near water. Nest trees include pines, spruce, firs, cottonwoods, oaks, populars, and beech. Ground nesting has been reported on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, in Canada's Northwest Territories, and in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Nests located on cliffs and rock pinnacles have been reported historically in California, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, but currently are known to occur only in Alaska and Arizona. Same nest may be used year after year, or may alternate between two nest sites in successive years. In British Columbia, nests with overhead canopy of foliage were most successful (Palmer 1988). See Livingston et al. (1990) for model of nesting habitat in Maine, Wood et al. (1989) for characteristics of nesting habitat in Florida (most nests in live pine trees). In Oregon, most nests were within 1.6 km of water, usually in largest tree in stand (Anthony and Isaacs 1989). In Colorado and Wyoming, forest stands containing nest trees varied from old-growth ponderosa pine to narrow strips of riparian vegetation surrounded by rangeland (Kralovec et al. 1992).


Often nest in the ecotone between forest and marsh, or forest and water. Nests are typically constructed in dominant or codominant live pines or cypress, and are usually less than 3 km from open water. The cone-shaped nest may be 6 ft. or more in diameter, and 6-8 ft. from top to bottom. It consists of sticks, leaves, grass, or Spanish moss. Winter habitat varies, but the birds are never far from water.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
378 Ocean Beaches Open beach sand. Upper Beach
3 Tidal Marsh Fresh and brackish tidal marshes, including cord grass, wild rice, sawgrass and needlerush alliances. Brackish Marsh, Interdune pond, Maritime wet grassland
124 Maritime Scrubs and Tidal Shrublands Coastal shrubs including wax-myrtle, swamp rose, alder, yaupon, and greenbriar. Maritime Shrubs, Salt Shrub
375 Hypersaline coastal salt flats Tidal flats within salt marshes, including saltmeadow cordgrass or sea-purslane dominated alliances. Salt Marsh
372 Interdune Herbaceous Wetlands Dune swales with permanently flooded to intermittently exposed hydrology. Species composition depends on salinity and can include cut grass, spike-rush, mosquito fern, and hornwort. Interdune Pond, Maritime Wet Grasslands
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
75 Tidal Swamp Forest Swamp tupelo dominated forest with or without black tupelo and/or cypress trees. Restricted to the tidal zones in the coastal plain. May have inclusions of coastal red cedar woodlands. Tidal cypress - gum swamp
121 Maritime Pinelands Loblolly forests and woodlands of the outer coastal plain. Estuarine Fringe Loblolly Pine Forest
17 Maritime Forests and Hammocks Maritime forests and woodlands dominated by live or sand laurel oak. Estuarine Fringe forests dominated by loblolly pine. Coastal Fringe Evergreen Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest
126 Interdune Wooded Depression Swamp Includes swamps dominated by sweetbay and swampbay or dogwood dominated forests. Maritime Shrub Swamp, Maritime Swamp Forest
380 Coastal Plain Fresh Water Emergent Emergent vegetation in fresh water seepage bogs, ponds and riverbeds of the coastal plain. Includes alliances dominated by sedges, eelgrass, as well as cane found in unforested cane-brakes. Small Depression Pond, Sandhill Seep, Floodplain Pool, Unforested Floodplain Canebrake, Riverscour Prairies, Vernal Pools
173 Coastal Plain Riverbank Shrubs Shrub dominated riverbanks, commonly dominated by willows and/or alders. Sand and Mud Bar
50 Coastal Plain Mixed Bottomland Forests Includes forests dominated by a variety of hardwood species, including sweetgum, cottonwood, red maple. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwood (in part), Coastal Plain Levee Forest
49 Coastal Plain Oak Bottomland Forest Bottomland forests dominated by deciduous oak alliances. Oaks represented can include swamp chestnut, cherrybark, willow, and/or overcup oak. Inclusions of loblolly pine temporarily flooded forests occur in patches. Hydrology is temporarily to seasonally flooded. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwoods (in part) blackwater subtype, brownwater subtype
158 Coastal Plain Nonriverine Wet Flat Forests Loblolly pine - Atlantic white-cedar - red maple - swamp tupelo saturated forests as well as forests dominated by loblolly, sweetgum, and red maple in non-riverine flats. Non-riverine Wet Hardwood Forest
41 Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest Dense stands of Atlantic white cedar with saturated hydrology. Can include swamp tupelo, red maple, and pond pines with a moderate shrub and herb layer. Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest
15 Seepage and Streamhead Swamps Includes extensive peat flats in the coastal plain, dominated by swamp tupelo, maples, and Atlantic white cedar alliances. In the sandhills includes streamhead pond pine and bay forests alliances. Saturated hydrology. Bay Forest, Small Depression Pocosin, Streamhead Atlantic White Cedar Forest, Streamhead Pocosins
30 Cypress-Gum Floodplain Forests Swamps dominated by black or swamp tupelo with or without Taxodium. Seasonally to semi-permanently flooded hydrology. Cypress-Gum Swamps
78 Pond-Cypress - Gum Swamps, Savannas and Lakeshores Cypress dominated swamps and lakeshores. Can include bays dominated by pond cypress or shorelines of coastal plain lakes with a narrow band of cypress. Non-riverine Swamp Forest, Natural Lakeshores (in part)
385 Oak Bottomland Forest and Swamp Forest The swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, shumard oak and sweetgum alliance is one representative. Other alliances are dominated by water, willow, and overcup oaks. Swamp forests can be dominated by sweetgum, red maple, and black gum being dominant. Loblolly can occur in combination with sweetgum and red maple, or with tulip poplar. Includes saturated and semi- to permanently flooded forests in the mountains. Piedmont/Mountain Bottomland Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Swamp Forest
63 Coastal Plain Mesic Hardwood Forests Beech dominated forests with white oak and northern red oak as possible co-dominants. Dry-mesic to mesic forests on slopes and small stream bottoms in the coastal plain. Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, Basic Mesic Forests
138 Coastal Plain Dry to Dry-Mesic Oak Forests Oak dominated forests of the coastal plain. Includes white oak forests with water oak or northern red oak and hickories as co-dominants. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
87 Pocosin Woodlands and Shrublands Includes pond pine woodland, low pocosin and high pocosin shrub dominated areas. Canebrakes and bay forests may be present. Pond Pine Woodlands, Peatland Canebrake, Small Depression Pocosin
67 Wet Longleaf or Slash Pine Savanna Wet flatwoods and pine savannas, typically dominated by longleaf pines, but slash or pond pines may be the dominant pines. Wet Pine Flatwoods
97 Mesic Longleaf Pine Longleaf pine woodlands without a major scrub oak component. Slash or loblolly pines may be present as well. Mesic Pine Flatwoods
42 Xeric Longleaf Pine Sandhills including a range of longleaf pine density from predominantly wiregrass, scrub oak dominated to true longleaf pine woodland. This does not include mesic or saturated flatwood types. Xeric Sandhill Scrub, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Coastal Fringe Sandhill
46 Xeric Oak - Pine Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with white or northern red oaks co-dominating. Pine Oak Heath
232 Xeric Pine-Hardwood Woodlands and Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with drier oaks including southern red, post, and chestnut oaks. Dry Oak Hickory Forest
238 Piedmont/Mountain Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Seasonally to permanently flooded areas with aquatic vegetation. Waterlily, pondweed, hydrilla smartweed are a few of the species that can occur. Piedmont/Mountain Semipermanent Impoundment (in part)
239 Piedmont/Mountain Emergent Vegetation Emergent vegetation of all wetland hydrologies. Sites would commonly support species such as tussock sedge, rushs, and cattail alliances. Rocky Bar and Shore (in part)
267 Riverbank Shrublands Riverside shrubs with temporarily flooded hydrologies. Found in the both the Mountains and Piedmont. Containing dominants such as smooth alder and a Carolina or black willows. Sand and Mud Bar
269 Floodplain Wet Shrublands Saturated shrublands of the Piedmont, includes buttonbush, swamp-loosestrife, decodon and alders. Piedmont/mountain Semipermanent Impoundment
230 Piedmont Mesic Forest American Beech - Red Oak - White Oak Forests. Mesic Mixed Hardwood
384 Piedmont/Mountain Mixed Bottomland Hardwood Forests Includes temporarily to seasonally forests dominated by hardwood species. Hardwoods include sweetgum, red maple, sycamore which co-occur in a mosaic of bottomland and levee positions. Includes alluvial hardwood forests in the mountains. Hemlock and white pine may occur as inclusions, but are generally mapped separately. Piedmont/Mountain Alluvial Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Levee Forest
383 Piedmont Mixed Successional Forest Generally loblolly mixed with successional hardwoods. Sweetgum, tulip poplar and red maple are common co-dominants in these successional forests. No equivalent
228 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Oak and Hardwood Forests Primarily oak dominated forests, white oak is often dominant, with co-dominants including . Also represented by sweetgum and tulip poplar dominated forests. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
222 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Pine Forests Loblolly dominated forests resulting from succession following clearing. This type occurs on all moisture regimes following disturbance with the exception of the extremely xeric sites. No equivalent
382 Dry Mesic Oak Pine Forests Mixed forests of the coastal plain and piedmont. Includes loblolly pine with white, southern red and/or post oak and loblolly with water oak. On basic sites of the piedmont, eastern red cedar may co-occur with post, black, and blackjack oaks. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Xeric Hard Pan Forest, Chestnut Oak Forest, Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
220 Piedmont Xeric Pine Forests Dry to xeric pine forests dominated by Virginia pine, shortleaf pine or Eastern Red Cedar. Pine Oak Heath
226 Piedmont Xeric Woodlands Generally post and blackjack oak dominated woodlands. White ash and pignut hickory can be found in combination with Eastern red cedar on glades. Xeric Hardpan Forest
20 Coniferous Regeneration Regenerating pine stands. Predominantly loblolly pine, but slash and longleaf stands occur as well. No equivalent
21 Coniferous Cultivated Plantation (natural / planted) Managed pine plantations, densely planted. Most planted stands are loblolly, but slash and longleaf occur as well. No equivalent
51 Deciduous Cultivated Plantation Planted deciduous trees. Includes sweetgum and sycamore plantations. No equivalent
36 Successional Deciduous Forests Regenerating deciduous trees with a shrub stature. Commonly dominated by sweetgum, tulip poplars and maples. No equivalent
180 Agricultural Crop Fields Farm fields used for row crops. No equivalent
205 Agricultural Pasture/Hay and Natural Herbaceous Farm fields used for pasture grass or hay production, as well as old fields dominated by native and exotic grasses. No equivalent
8 Open water Open water without aquatic vegetation. No equivalent
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 3 kilometers from large bodies of water.
Exclude all water greater than 5 kilometers from land.
Exclude areas of intensive human activity including moderately to highly developed landscapes.
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Bowerman, W. W., et al. 1993. Population composition and perching habitat of wintering bald eagles, HALIAEETUS LEUCOCEPHALUS, in northcentral Michigan. Can. Field-Nat. 107:273-278.

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Chester, D. N., et al. 1990. Habitat use by nonbreeding bald eagles in North Carolina. J. Wildlife Management 54:223-234.

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Curnutt, J. L. 1992. Dynamics of a year-round communal roost of bald eagles. Wilson Bull. 104:536-540.

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10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853