Bald Eagle

A large dark bird with a white head a large yellow beak stands over a fish carcass near snow banks and a large body of water.
Bald eagles are one of more than a dozen raptor (birds of prey) species in Yellowstone. The bald eagle is a recovered endangered and threatened species.

NPS / Jim Peaco

 

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) was named the national symbol of the United States by Congress in 1782. Found near open water from Mexico to Alaska, bald eagles may range over great distances but typically return to nest in the vicinity where they fledged. In Greater Yellowstone they feed primarily on fish, but also on waterfowl and carrion. Numbers declined dramatically during most of the 1900s due to habitat loss, shooting, and pesticide contamination. In 1967, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed the bald eagle as an endangered species in 43 states, including Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Habitat protection, restrictions on killing, and restrictions on pesticide use led to population growth and delisting of the species in 2007. Bald eagles nesting in northwestern Wyoming are part of the Rocky Mountain breeding population that extends into Idaho and Montana.

 
 

Population

Bald eagles, which may reuse the same nest year after year, occupy territories near the park’s major rivers and lakes. The number of eaglets that fledge each year depends partly on weather and can fluctuate widely. Juveniles may migrate west in the fall but adults often stay in the park year-round. Historically, about half of the park’s known bald eagle nests have been in the Yellowstone Lake area, where the productivity and success rates are generally much lower than in the rest of the park. However, in 2018, only seven of seventeen active nests in the park were on Yellowstone Lake. Of those seven, three were successful and fledged four young in total. A recent study found little evidence to support the claim that cutthroat trout declines have resulted in lower nesting success for bald eagles on Yellowstone Lake.

 

Outlook

Research has shown that human presence can disturb eagle nesting and foraging, therefore nest areas in national parks may be closed to visitors. Yellowstone manages nest sites on a case by case basis.

 

Resources

1940. Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 In 16 US Code 668- 668d, 54 Stat. 250.

Annual Bird Program Reports. National Park Service, Yellowstone National Park. https://www.nps.gov/yell/nature/birdreports.htm

Baril, L.M., D.W. Smith, T. Drummer, and T.M. Koel. 2013. Implications of cutthroat trout declines for breeding ospreys and bald eagles at Yellowstone Lake. Journal of Raptor Research 47(3): 234–245.

Buehler, D.A. Bald Eagle. The Birds of North America Online. https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/home

Crandall, R.H. 2013. Identifying environmental factors influencing golden eagle presence and reproductive success. Thesis. University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Harmata, A. 1994. Yellowstone’s bald eagles: Is the park a “black hole” for the national symbol? Yellowstone Science 2.

Harmata, A.R. and B. Oakleaf. 1992. Bald eagles in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem: an ecological study with emphasis on the Snake River, Wyoming. Edited by Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Cheyenne, WY.

Harmata, A.R., G.J. Montopoli, B. Oakleaf, P.J. Harmata, and M. Restani. 1999. Movements and survival of bald eagles banded in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Journal of Wildlife Management 63(3):781–793.

Preston, C.R., R.E. Jones, N.S. Horton. 2017. Golden Eagle Diet Breadth and Reproduction in Relation to Fluctuations in Primary Prey Abundance in Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. Journal of Raptor Research 51(3): 334-346

Steenhof, K., M.N. Kochert, T.L. McDonald. 1997. Interactive Effects of Prey and Weather on Golden Eagle Reproduction. Journal of Animal Ecology 66:350-362

Swenson, J.E. 1975. Ecology of the bald eagle and osprey in Yellowstone National Park. M.S. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University.

 
An osprey comes in for a landing on a nest, where its mate tends the nest.

Osprey

Osprey summer in Yellowstone, fishing and raising young.

A peregrine falcon perched on a branch.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcons are some of the fastest birds.

A large dark bird stands over the remains of a carcass on a snowbank next to a body of water.

Golden Eagle

Golden eagles are named for the yellow feathers at the base of the neck.

A large flock of white birds on the shore of an island.

Colony Nesting Birds

American white pelicans and other colonial nesting birds nest primarily on the Molly Islands in the southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake.

Two birds with black heads, red eyes, and black & white bodies swim in a lake.

Common Loon

Loons in Yellowstone are some of the southern most breeding populations.

Two adult swans and four juveniles swim lake.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans are the largest wild waterfowl in North America.

A white-breasted bird with gray and black wings and black beak on a mound of snow

Songbirds and Woodpeckers

Passerine and near passerine species comprise the majority of bird species in Yellowstone.

A small, gray bird perched on a rock along a stream holding an insect in its beak.

American Dipper

Also known as the water ouzel, these birds dive into water for aquatic insects.

Profile of a raven's head and chest

Raven

Ravens are smart birds, able to put together cause and effect.

A sandhill crane walking through a marshy landscape.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill cranes nest in Yellowstone during the summer.

An eared grebe near Mammoth Hot Springs

Sound Library

Immerse yourself in the aural splendor of Yellowstone.

A striped black & white bird with a red patch on the back of it's head perches on a tree trunk.

Birds

Spring is a wonderful time to look for birds, as migration brings many birds back to the park.

Last updated: August 28, 2019

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Mailing Address:

PO Box 168
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190-0168

Phone:

307-344-7381

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