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Bald eagle at sunrise

A bald eagle rests on a fence as the sun rises west of Billings.

The Bald Eagle, whose scientific name is Haliaeetus leucocephalus means “sea eagle, white head”. Bald Eagles were formerly distributed throughout North America. However, breeding is now limited to Alaska, Canada, northern Great Lakes states and the Pacific Northwest. Females are larger than males, but both have a snow white head and tail. Juveniles are a mixture of brown and white until they reach about four or five years old. They are massive at 38” tall with a 80” wing span. Their calls are a series of high-pitched cries. They mate for life, but if something happens to one of them, then the remaining bird will seek out another mate.

Eagles feed mainly on live or scavenged fish; waterfowl, smaller mammals, and amphibians and reptiles. In winter, deer carcasses are a major source of food. Their strong, hook-shaped beaks and sharp talons allow them to rip apart their prey for eating.

You can help Bald Eagles by leaving dead snags and old trees on your property for perching and nesting. Also, don’t litter. Trash along the road (even organic things) creates an artificial ecosystem that attracts small mammals and the raptors that hunt them. This creates a situation where the birds can be hit by cars.

If you find an injured bird, do not try to pick up the bird. They are wild animals and can inflict injury. Note the location and call your local game warden or the Montana Raptor Center at 406-585-1211. You are the most important step in the bird’s potential recovery and return to the wild.

Kathy and her husband, John, own and operate the Wild Birds Unlimited, located at 111 S. 24th Street, Billings and at www.wbu.com/billings.