10 predators that eat bald eagles {And what makes bald eagles difficult prey}

Bald eagles are among the largest bird species on earth, which is a good thing in terms of their survival; they have very few natural predators. However, that does not put them out of danger yet, because they can be prey for a few birds and animals when they are still quite young, despite their status as apex predators.

Among these predators include owls, gulls, crows, hawks, Black-Billed Magpies, bobcats, wolverines, black bears, ravens, and raccoons. These will not eat the adult bald eagles, but will prey on their eggs and very young eagles. Additionally, human beings are a major threat to their survival, thanks to killing them to protect their livestock, and parasites such as bow flies are a major threat to young fledglings through weakening or killing them.

Top bald eagle predators

There are two subspecies of bald eagles, and it has a wide habitat range that spans most of the contiguous United States, Alaska, Canada, and the northern parts of Mexico. Since it is a sea eagle, it is common near larger water bodies that have abundant food supplies as well as old trees to act as a nesting spot.

Bald eagles are generally opportunistic feeders, although their main diet consists of fish. The bald eagle’s predators will not seek it out as a first prey choice, though. Instead, they will pick out eagle eggs or very young hatchlings that are not strong enough to fly as their prey, since adult bald eagles are too difficult to hunt.

Their predators are:

  1. Owls

Owls are carnivorous birds, which means that they need to eat other animals to survive. Among their main prey options include amphibians, invertebrates such as earthworms, crabs, snails, spiders, and insects; small mammals, reptiles, fish, and birds.

Different owl species will have different food preferences. For instance, a larger owl like the Eagle Owl will feed on young birds that include the bald eagle fledglings to small mammals like young foxes and hares, while Screech owls and Scops feed mostly on insects.

  1. Gulls

Also referred to as the ‘rats of the sky’, seagulls are aggressive scavenger birds that have an indiscriminate appetite; including eating eggs of bald eagles and young eagles as well. However, bald eagles are not their first food source, but they will instead eat plankton and various fish species, with the young bald eagles coming in as a last resort.

Like most animals on this list, gulls will avoid interacting with adult bald eagles though, since the adult birds can easily kill and eat them.

  1. Crows

Unlike owls, crows are omnivorous, which means they can eat both meat and plants. They can also eat almost anything, since their dietary restrictions are quite minimal; and that means they can feast on reptiles, small fish, dead animals, grains, seeds, and even other birds like young bald eagles and their eggs.

The main point to note about the crow is that its diet depends on the habitat it lives in, as it is an opportunistic feeder. Nevertheless, they are not as agile and fast as some true aerial predators, so you will not know them much for hunting adult birds and mammals; instead, they prefer hunting for smaller birds and mammals such as young birds and bird eggs. Crows are well-known for their tendency to raid bird nests, particularly during the spring months, and these eggs comprise a major part of their diets.

  1. Hawks

Hawks are among the most fascinating birds despite their reclusive nature, although there are different types that live in different regions of the world. These differences in their species categorizations also means that they will have different dietary preferences, including young bald eagles; therefore, understanding their feeding patterns is essential to understanding the local hawks in a specific habitat.

The category of hawks that specialize in hunting smaller birds is the ‘accipiter’, and the hawks under this category include Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-Shinned hawks, and Northern Goshawks. These bird types are well-known for their ability to swoop through dense forest cover at high speeds, and they have speed and stealth as their main hunting strategies.

While accipiter hawks will tend to eat small and medium-size birds, they also eat small mammals like squirrels, mice, and chipmunks. They enjoy hunting these animals during the spring months after their young birds hatch from their eggs.

Another category of hawks that tend to feed on young bald eagles and their eggs are the buteos, which tend to fly high over open landscapes. These hawks include red-shoulder hawks and broad-winged hawks, as they are opportunistic feeders and can eat anything depending on the season of the year and the habitats they live in.

  1. Black-Billed Magpies

Similar to other birds in the crow and jay family, also known as corids, black-billed magpies are opportunistic feeders and follow an omnivorous diet that varies widely depending on their environment. Some eat grains and wild fruits, while other eat insects and raid bird nests; including those of bald eagles.

  1. Bobcats

Also known as wildcats, bobcats are solitary and nocturnal, preferring to hunt during the dusk and dawn hours of the day. They are fierce hunters and eat a carnivorous diet, while having the ability to kill prey even larger than themselves.

Alongside eating large animals, bobcats can kill and eat smaller animals like squirrels, mice, and rabbits, as well as birds. While they may not choose bald eagle eggs and young fledglings as their main food source, they can eat them when they need to survive due to their stealth-like hunting abilities. In most cases, the bobcats that live in the southern parts of the United States and northern Mexico will eat birds alongside smaller animals, while northern US and Canadian bobcats will consume other animals like snowshoe hares.

  1. Wolverines

Wolverines have a muscular, heavyweight body that look similar to smaller versions of brown bears, but one feature that stands out about them is their excellent sense of smell. They also move around quickly, thanks to their padded feet that give them an easy pass through both thick snow layers and general ground surfaces.

These animals are omnivorous, which means they can eat both vegetation and meat sources. Their usual meals can vary widely depending on their habitats, as they can range from large animals like mountain goats, moose, and caribou, to small animals, fruits, and even bird eggs. These eggs include bald eagles, as wolverines can raid their nests during the early spring months.

These animals are quite stealthy when searching for food as well, and have very strong jaws and teeth that can devour their prey of choice within a short time. Additionally, their vegetarian takes on diet including berries and plants mostly occur during the summer months, although these are not a major part of their diet.

  1. Black bears

Although the scientific classification of all bears is Carnivora, including grizzly and black bears, they are actually omnivores that can consume both plants and animals. Their diet includes succulent plants, berries, roots, fish, grass, larvae, insects, and meat, although they will occasionally consume young birds and bird eggs like those of the bald eagle.

  1. Ravens

Ravens are among the largest birds that also happen to be highly intelligent, and they are not picky eaters. Like their crow cousins, ravens are omnivorous eaters and will eat almost anything they see fit as long as the opportunity presents itself.

Some of the animals and plants they consume include animal carcasses, small reptiles, small rodents like voles and rats, invertebrates like insects, and bird hatchlings and eggs. Young bald eagle hatchlings are also included in their list of prey, especially right after they hatch.

  1. Raccoons

Raccoons are interesting animals, since their hunting ability depends on their highly sensitive sense of touch. Among their distinguishing traits is their highly dexterous front paws, which function in a similar way to human fingers and allow them to manipulate and grasp their food during hunting and eating.

In terms of their diet, they are opportunistic and omnivorous feeder, so their environment dictates their diet greatly. Their most common food sources are crayfish, eggs, frogs, small rodents, insects, berries, nuts, plants, and fruits. However, they can also eat bird eggs and young hatchlings as well when the opportunity arises, including young bald eagle hatchlings.

Common bald eagle predators and their sizes

Animal
Length or Height in inches
Weight in pounds
Owls
24 to 28 inches
4.4 lbs.
Gulls
23 to 27 inches
2.2 to 3.3 lbs.
Crows
22 to 31 inches
1.5 to 4.4 lbs.
Hawks
17 to 26 inches
2.5 lbs.
Black-Billed Magpies
18 to 24 inches
0.4 lbs.
Bobcats
27 inches
18.9 lbs.
Wolverines
26 to 43 inches
19.8 to 55.1 lbs.
Black bears
55 inches
130 to 600 lbs.
Ravens
22 to 31 inches
1.5 to 4.4 lbs.
Raccoons
16 to 28 inches
7.7 to 19.8 lbs.

Humans as a threat to bald eagles

Although adult bald eagles do not have any natural predators, that does not put them out of harm’s way: humans are a major threat to their survival. Many eagles suffer injuries or death due to negative interactions with humans, including indirect ones like lead poisoning originating from human recreational activities like fishing and hunting.

Some of these human threats include:

  1. Pesticides

Among the most common pesticides that are affecting eagle populations in general is DDT, which is also responsible for the decline of honeybee populations. For instance, the 1960s had a significant decline in the number of bald eagles, since farmers were using this pesticide in large amounts. Increasing eagle deaths occurred because the chemical compromises their shell integrity, resulting in the death of many unborn eaglets.

Although increasing awareness and resulting bans were effected in the United States more than 4 decades ago, the effectsof DDT still linger to this day. In particular, some concern is occurring due to DDT being used as a method of malaria control; however, many are making efforts to educate people on the dangers of pesticides.

  1. Lead poisoning

Most eagle poisoning is an accidental occurrence, rather than being intentional. Some instances include eagles eating foods containing lead poisons, which were meant for other animals like coyotes and foxes.

Since eagles generally have very strong digestive systems, lead is extremely dangerous to them. If they consume even slight amounts of the substance, their highly powerful stomach acids will break the lead down and release it into their circulatory systems. This lead distribution will damage their organs and nervous systems, leading to organ failure and motor control issues and resulting in death. They can also suffer from lead poisoning after eating animals that have died after being shot by lead bullets.

This lead poisoning poses a great threat to bald eagles in particular, since their main diet is made up of carrion, waterfowl, and fish. The eagles will frequently eat animals that may have lead fragments in their bodies, as well as fish and waterfowl that are impaired due to lead ingestion.

  1. Wind farms

Recent awareness on climate change is gradually resulting in increasing reliance on green-friendly solutions and avoiding non-renewable fossil fuels. While no one disputes the benefits of switching to wind energy to create electricity, it is posing a risk to bald eagle populations in an unexpected way.

When wind farm turbine blades strike the birds as they fly, this results in fatal injuries to the animal. A recent study particularly showed that more than half a million birds die in wind farms every year, with bald eagles making up 83,000 of these animals. 

  1. Traps and electrocutions

Other than shootings, bald eagles can occasionally enter traps meant for other animals such as coyotes and other predators. If they are hungry, the bald eagle will feed on any animal caught in the trap, and in the process become trapped themselves. The result is some eagles becoming crippled or losing a leg, which increases their chances of death because they cannot fend for themselves anymore.

As horrid as electrocution is, many bald eagles die from it; other birds that are affected include other raptors such as hawks and golden eagles. This usually happens when the birds land on electricity lines, and their feet or wings touch two lines and form a circuit that kills them instantly. Some cases like during poor weather, eagles are killed when they fly directly into power lines because of poor visibility.

Some improvements that humans can implement to reduce eagle electrocutions include:

  • Removing the crossbars, especially high ones, from high-voltage poles. This will make them less attractive as perching sites.
  • Building artificial perches on top of the crossbar, which will act as electrocution barriers.
  • Installing barriers that prevent the eagles from touching the power source and the ground at the same time.
  1. Habitat loss

Among all the human threats to bald eagles, habitat loss is the biggest threat, especially activities like development of waterfront buildings. There are three forms of habitat loss:

  • Habitat degradation: While you may leave a degraded habitat intact, its state does not allow it to support the animals living in it, resulting in death or migration. Some ways of degrading bald eagle habitats include agricultural developments, disrupting ecosystem processes, destructive fishing methods, and logging.
  • Habitat fragmentation: This is the separation of a habitat into several sections that are not large enough to support the bird and other animals. Some ways include pollution, urbanization, deforestation, conversion of forests hosting the birds into agricultural land, and introducing invasive species.
  • Habitat destruction: This happens when a habitat cannot support the animals living in it, and the result is destruction of biodiversity and animal deaths. Some of these examples include urbanization, harvesting trees indiscriminately to create fossil fuels, and destroying wetlands.

Juvenile bald eagles face even more threats; the first year after their hatching is the most difficult period for them. Aside from the natural predators they face as threats, they can also die due to habitat destruction, as well as humans introducing new chemicals in their environments. Some people will even maim or kill bald eagles because of their feathers or to eliminate them from being a threat.

Destruction of waterfront properties is the most destructive activity that humans carry out and increases the death rates of bald eagles. Since most bald eagles and other eagle species will depend on aquatic foods and shoreline habitats, increasing human settlements and developments in these areas pose the biggest threat to the survival of these birds. Additionally, the destruction of ‘old growth forests’ that have long been the home and nesting spots of the bald eagle is another factor in their death, as humans continue seeking these trees for commercial products and housing materials.

Conclusion

While bald eagles do not face a significant number of natural predators, humans remain their biggest threat and habitat destruction activities result in their increasing death rates. Preserving their populations is important, since it leads to balance in the entire ecosystem they live in.

FAQs

Which animals eat bald eagles?

Very few animals can eat bald eagles because of their prowess in preying on animals and their large size. However, young eagles and eagle eggs are an easier target for birds like owls, as well as mammals such as raccoons and squirrels.

Do bald eagles have predators?

No, at least not in their adult stage. Bald eagles are known as raptors, which means they are birds of prey.