Bald eagles are one of North America’s most iconic animals, symbolizing success, power, wisdom, and freedom. Once endangered in Ontario and elsewhere, bald eagles are known as an Ontarian conservation success story, having made an impressive comeback in the past thirty years. Though still rare, Georgian Bay can count itself among the locations pristine enough for bald eagles to inhabit, with local sightings becoming increasingly common. These majestic birds love forested shoreline areas and have been spotted high up in The Great Lodge’s cedar forest on multiple occasions.
While bald eagles are one of North America’s two eagle species (along with the golden eagle), they are the only eagle exclusive to North America. Most bald eagles in Canada are found on the Pacific coast, with smaller populations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario. A very small number of bald eagles can be found in Southern Québec, Cape Breton and coastal Newfoundland.
Bald eagles display unique and intricate courtship rituals such as the ‘cartwheel courtship flight’, in which two courting bald eagles will lock talons while flying and cartwheel spin towards the ground. Courting pairs as well chase each other and act as a ‘rollercoaster’, flying high and then swooping low dramatically. Usually mating for life, a bald eagle pair will both care for their eggs and young. Bald eagles will lay 1-3 eggs annually, only half of which will survive past one year. Those that do survive will not develop their distinct white head and dark body until they are 4-5 years old; until then, their feathers are dark brown. The average bald eagle will live for 20-30 years.
A striking predator with over a two-meter wingspan, bald eagles stand 2 and a half feet tall and weigh around 6 kilograms. Bald eagles are both hunters and scavengers; young bald eagles are particularly known to ‘pirate’ the dinner of other predators, while the adults usually hunt. At the top of their food chain, bald eagles have no predators to worry about, other than the occasional scavenger (such as racoons) attacking their nest.
Bald eagles prey on animals as large as ducks and are known to enjoy waterfowl, fish, small mammals, and amphibians. Highly developed eyesight allows for bald eagles to see up to four time further than humans, a necessity for spotting prey on land and in the water far below. Preferring to keep their distance from urban areas, bald eagles tend toward forests nearby water with plenty of space to hunt and fish.
As North America’s largest bird, bald eagles also have our continent’s largest nest, spanning around 1 meter tall and 2 meters across. Older nests, which accumulate more materials, can increase to around 3 meters tall and 6 meters across, weighing as much as a small car. A bald eagle pair will build their nest in the forest’s biggest tree (often conifers), or on a cliff.
Once endangered in Ontario, Bird Studies Canada has called the bald eagle’s resurgence “one of the greatest wildlife recoveries in Ontario history”. In 1970, Ontario was home to ten nesting pairs; in 1980, only three. In 2011, the number of nesting pairs reached 71. There are presently estimated to be 100 nesting pairs in Ontario, along with a population of 1,400. In the last decade the bald eagle has shifted from an endangered species to a species of special concern, and has even been spotted in urban areas such as Toronto, Hamilton and Peterborough.
Georgian Bay’s abundant shorelines and forests provide a clean and ideal bald eagle habitat; it is not surprising these majestic birds are frequenting our beautiful beaches and woodlands. While bald eagles are rare, their striking appearance and expansive wingspan make them easy to spot. Bald eagles may be seen soaring high above searching for their next meal, or atop a tree; looking skyward is your best chance of glimpsing one of these majestic creatures. If you do see a bald eagle, please admire from afar. Georgian Bay is lucky to have these magnificent birds nearby, and The Great Lodge looks forward to spotting more bald eagles in the future.