Bald Eagle nests are rare sights for most birders, but they are not impossible to find, as you simply need to know what you’re looking for.
But what are you looking for when searching for a Bald Eagle’s nest?
To find a Bald Eagle’s nest, look high in the trees for a circular structure made of large sticks, about 4-5 feet wide and 2-4 feet deep. You’re most likely to find a nest during the breeding season, between January and June in most of the United States.
Tips On Identifying a Bald Eagle’s Nest
Bald Eagles are a rare find in the United States, but it is possible to find their nests if you know what to look for and when.
What Does an Eagle’s Nest Look Like?
Bald Eagle nests are made of large sticks and are usually about 4-5 feet in diameter and 2-4 feet deep.
However, eagles add to their nests every year, adding about 1-2 feet of the nest to expand its size over time.
Some eagle’s nests have been measured at almost 10 feet in diameter after years of nest-building, weighing up to 2,000 pounds.
The largest Bald Eagle nest ever found weighed almost 3 tons and was 9.5 feet in diameter and 20 feet deep.
Bald Eagle nests have a lining of grass, corn stalks, and other vegetation, and are filled with moss, downy feathers, and other soft materials on the inside.
Where Can You Find an Eagle’s Nest?
Bald Eagles nest high up in mature trees or the snags of old, dead trees.
You’ll often find Bald Eagle nests in white pine trees, cottonwood trees, oaks, hickories, aspen spruces, or firs, as well as on old communication towers and transmission lines.
The nest will be tucked away in the crook of a tree, below the highest point of the trees.
Often, Bald Eagles will build their nests near a water source where it’s easier for them to find and capture their food.
If you find one Bald Eagle’s nest, look nearby for a second or third, as they will sometimes build multiple nests in the same territory.
Sometimes, these secondary nests will be left unfinished.
When To Look for a Bald Eagle’s Nest
To find a Bald Eagle’s nest, start looking towards the middle and end of the nesting season when the nest is likely to be finished.
Keep an eye out for finished nests during the incubation period, when the eagles are likely to be spending a lot of time at their nests.
Hatchling season, which follows the incubation period, is also a good time to keep an eye out.
The timing of Bald Eagle nesting season varies by region, but most regions see Bald Eagles begin their nesting around December and January.
The exception is Southern states, where Bald Eagles may begin building their nests as early as September.
The nest-building period lasts about two months in most regions and for as long as six months in the South.
Once the nest is built, it’s followed by a period of egg-laying and incubation, then rearing young hatchlings.
The incubation period lasts about three months in Northern states and six months in Southern states, while the hatchling period lasts about as long as the incubation period in both areas.
How To Tell a Bald Eagle’s Nest Apart From Other Nests
Bald Eagle nests look similar to many other raptor nests, but there are key differences that can help you tell them apart.
For example, Golden Eagle nests are also large and made from sticks, but they are flatter and smaller by comparison.
Hawk nests are also smaller than eagle nests and as deep as they are wide.
Heron and Osprey nests also look similar to the Bald Eagle’s nest, but they are flatter, broader, and flimsier than a Bald Eagle’s nest.
Herons and Ospreys also nest near bodies of water, but Ospreys will choose the highest spot possible, preferring the tops of broken trees to spots under tree cover.
Owl nests are difficult to tell apart from eagle nests because they often take over the nests of other birds, including hawks, crows, herons, and eagles.
When owls do build their nests, they’ll use tree cavities and build a nest that’s flimsier than a typical eagle’s nest.
From a distance, a squirrel’s nest can look similar to a Bald Eagle’s nest, as both are situated high up in the tops of trees and nestled in the crotch of branches against the trunk.
However, squirrel nests are much smaller than Bald Eagle nests and are made from leaves and other soft vegetation, not sticks, and tend to be very round in shape.
Crow nests are similar in size to squirrel nests, about two feet in diameter, but are made from sticks rather than soft vegetation.
Besides the difference in size, they can look very similar to raptor nests.
Both are found in the upper third of a tree close to the trunk.
Is It Safe To Go Near a Bald Eagle’s Nest?
Bald Eagles are very sensitive to nest disturbances and keep an eye out for potential threats from their high perches. They are especially sensitive during the breeding season.
For this reason, you must keep a respectful distance from any Bald Eagle’s nests that you might find.
To avoid getting too close, keep a lookout for a good pair of birding binoculars like the Adasion 12×42 Binoculars from Amazon.com. Some of the benefits include:
- They allow you to see as far as 376 feet, or 1,000 yards while being lightweight to carry.
- They have adjustable eyecups, so if you wear glasses, you’ll be able to use these without removing your glasses.
- The 12x magnification gives you a clearer and larger image, which will help you identify an Eagle’s nest that much quicker.
Signs That a Bald Eagle Nest Is Active
The signs that a Bald Eagle’s nest is actively being used include whitewash droppings on the tree trunk under the nest, bones nearby, feathers under the nest, and small animal carcasses as the base of the tree, which is true of most raptor nests.
How a Bald Eagle Defends Its Territory
Bald Eagles make loud calls to defend their territory if they perceive any threats, which sounds like a distinct, loud, ringing call.
The most common threat to Bald Eagles is other eagles, and if another eagle comes too close to the nest, a Bald Eagle will chase it away and even lock talons with the other bird in some cases.
Why You Should Never Disturb a Bald Eagle’s Nest
Bald Eagles were formerly considered threatened species in the United States, but they have made a comeback.
However, they are still protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits any disturbance to eagle nests without a permit.
Human disturbances can cause Bald Eagles to abandon their nests, including the eggs or young hatchlings inside.
Disturbances that impact Bald Eagles the most include loud, startling noises and prolonged activity near the nest, and any direct physical contact with the nest would be considered a disturbance.
Overall, it’s best to keep your distance and remain quiet to avoid upsetting an eagle and potentially causing nest abandonment.
To find a Bald Eagle’s nest, look for a 4-5 foot-wide, 2-4 foot-deep mass of sticks high up in a tree near the crook where the branch meets the trunk.
If the nest is active, you’ll see droppings, carcasses, and bones on or near the tree where the nest is.
Make sure that you keep a good distance from Bald Eagle nests, especially during the breeding season.