America’s National Bird is one of two which inhabit the States along with the golden eagle, and the only one found east of the Mississippi (golden eagles gather exclusively in the west).
Fortunately, conservation legislation like various wildlife codes prevent the ownership, sale, and hunting of bald eagles in Illinois has stabilized the population. Over the last several decades, the bird has gone from endangered to stable, and we are starting to see some growth in many states.
This report details the characteristics of the bald eagles in Illinois, with information on where they can be found, how to identify them, and other information to assist bird watchers in catching a glimpse of this remarkable raptor.
Want to learn more? This book on the Birds of Prey of North America is a fantastic read!
The appearance of a bald eagle is distinct and unmistakable among birds-of-prey. The term ‘bald’ might lead some to believe the raptor is featherless on its crown, but it actually refers to the old-school use of the word to describe the color white (bald, meaning ‘without color’).
In this all-white head (crown, face, and neck), there are bright yellow eyes that can see for incredible distances, and a prominent yellow beak, hooked just enough to make clear its purpose for a hunter of other animals.
The bald eagle’s coat is always a shade of dark brown closer to mahogany, with lighter brown highlights at the tips, though the contrast isn’t as sharp as a golden eagle.
Their tails are the same color as their heads, and their feet are the same yellow-orange of their beaks, with hooked black talons that complete its imposing image.
Nesting and Hunting
Bald eagles are also known for constructing gargantuan nests from sticks, earth, and other natural debris.
The word ‘gargantuan’ is not used as a colorful exaggeration here; these nests can be as large as 8-10 feet across and just as deep, with some weighing near a half-ton.
They are typically found in the tallest trees, standing out conspicuously as large mounds near the summit, or in outcroppings and cliffs on the side of mountains.
Both instances are usually near the edges of watery locales like riparian zones, marshlands, and riversides, where the eagle has its pick from the animals who frequent these spots, including the fish.
When can you see Bald Eagles in Illinois?
Bald eagles are a common visitor to the western edge of the state, which borders on Missouri and Iowa. This is presumably due to the bird’s love of mountain dwellings and the relatively high elevation of this region, but also its proximity to dense forests and wetlands packed with food.
The rest of the state sees infrequent visitors in the winter, as the cold-adapted bald eagle will occasionally fly to the lowlands to escape the icy temperatures of the highlands in particularly severe winters.
We are avid bird-watchers who recently retired, allowing us more time to travel the world. Fortunately, we have managed to visit numerous countries around Europe, Asia, and America. Watching and photographing birds has been a passion for many years and we are making the most of the extra time on our hands!