Have you spotted a bird lately that resembles an eagle? If you live in Montana, you might be wondering if there are eagles in Montana or if it was just your imagination.
There are, in fact, types of eagles in Montana:
- Bald Eagle
- Golden Eagle.
Of these, the former is famously found only in North America.
Here’s more about the two types of eagles typically found in Montana and how and where you can spot them.
1. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
- Length: 28-40 inches
- Weight: 6.5-15 lbs.
- Wingspan: 71-91 inches
- Commonly Found In: All of the U.S.; most of Canada and Alaska; northern Mexico
One of the largest birds of prey in the continent of North America, the bald eagle is commonly known as the symbol of the United States of America. Most commonly found near bodies of water, the bald eagle ranges all over the U.S.A, as well as Alaska, Canada, and northern Mexico.
Almost everyone knows what a bald eagle looks like, even if they have never seen one with their own eyes.
An adult bald eagle has smooth brown plumage, and its tail and head are white. The eyes, feet, and beak are strikingly yellow. The bald eagle’s legs do not have feathers on them and end with short toes that have distinctly large talons. You’ll notice that the bald eagle’s rear toe has the largest talon — that’s because it’s used to pierce the body of prey.
This appearance is applicable to both female and male bald eagles; however, females are about 25% larger in size than males.
Furthermore, juvenile bald eagles also have a very different appearance compared to adults. They don’t develop the appearance of an adult bald eagle until they are 5 years old.
Their plumage can vary quite a bit and is usually highlighted by streaks of white and brown. And their beaks, too, change color a few times until they reach adulthood.
Habitat & Diet
Bald eagles live all throughout Montana and the rest of the United States. For their habitat, they will pick any place that is near an open water body with tall, old trees that can hold their large nests.
So why do bald eagles like to live near and around water? Because their diet is composed mainly of fish.
However, if they are unable to find fish, bald eagles will also eat amphibians, reptiles, and crustaceans. They also feed on carrion and scraps that they find in campsites, as well as small mammals such as hares, rabbits, muskrats, raccoons, deer fawns, and beavers.
And yes, bald eagles do also eat other birds! Their favorite avian preys are ducks, grebes, alcids, gulls, egrets, geese, and coots.
The vision of a bald eagle is 8 times as powerful as a human’s. This allows them to hunt from heights of up to 3 kilometers, or 10,000 feet, in the air.
Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world, which is why they prefer to live in areas with tall trees. Although they start small, they usually keep adding more layers to the nest until it gets so big that it falls out of the tree! During the breeding season, the bald eagle is extremely territorial and defensive.
Oh, and that iconic, intimidating eagle call you’ve probably heard is not actually what a bald eagle sounds like. Their call is more comparable to that of a gull, with whistles and trills.
For this reason, movie directors have been known to make use of the call of a Red-tailed hawk when showing the shot of a bald eagle because they sound kind of unimpressive.
The bald eagle does not tolerate human activity well and has been known to attack humans, although not lethally. This is why balds are usually found in areas free of human disturbance.
2. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
- Length: 26-40 inches
- Weight: 6.5-16 lbs.
- Wingspan: 71-91 inches
- Commonly Found In: Western North America; Alaska; Mexico
The majestic Golden Eagle is a large bird of prey that lives in the Northern Hemisphere. This species of eagle is the one most widely distributed. With sharp talons and beaks, the fierce hunting ability of the Golden Eagle is on display to anyone who knows anything about birds.
The Golden Eagle gets its name from the dark brown and gold feathers on its neck and back. Its talons and beak are black, while the base of its tail is dark brown with white.
A golden eagle is also identifiable by how much of its legs are visible. While the Bald Eagle has feathers that reach all the way down to its feet, the same is not true for the Golden Eagle.
Juvenile Golden Eagles are distinguishable by the white patches on their tails and wings. Otherwise, they look quite similar and are easy to mix up.
Habitat & Diet
It’s easy to see Golden Eagles in Montana, particularly in large open areas in elevated landscapes such as hills, cliffs, or mountains. Farmlands, grasslands, coniferous woodlands, and shrublands are also common dwelling places of Golden Eagles, which is why they’re found all throughout North America and in northern Mexico.
The incredible agility and speed of the Golden Eagle make them apex hunters who love to eat mammals. They will easily tear into and eat hares, rabbits, ground squirrels, and even prairie dogs! Not even larger mammals, such as seals, small deer, and coyotes, are entirely safe from the Golden Eagle.
Much like the Bald Eagle, the Golden Eagle also has a high and whistling call that does not exactly match its ferocity. Good thing they’re not that noisy, to begin with!
Golden Eagles mate for life. Male eagles try to impress females by picking up a rock or stick, flying up high, dropping it, then diving to catch it before it can land. Once a male and female Golden Eagle become a pair, they also hunt cooperatively. One of them will ambush the prey, then drive it towards its mate to make the kill.
Golden Eagles like to build their nests on cliffs but also nest on observation towers and trees. They might even nest on the ground, so confident are they in their abilities!
Bald Eagles: Fun Facts
There’s a lot more to know about these raptors…
Bald Eagles Are Not Actually Bald
The bald eagle’s head is covered entirely in feathers. Why, then, does it have “bald” in its name?
The bald actually comes from piebald, a word which, according to the Oxford dictionary, means “having irregular patches of two colors, typically black and white.” If you go back and read the description of a Bald Eagle’s appearance, this will make sense!
Bald Eagles Live Very Long
With an average lifespan of 20 years, the Bald Eagle is already one of the longest-living species of bird. But they have been known to go up to 30-38 years as well.
In captivity, however, the bald eagle can live as long as FIFTY years!
Bald Eagles Almost Went Extinct
In the latter part of the 20th century, the chemical Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) — invented in the 1940s — was present in much of the environment.
Although a highly effective insecticide, the chemical was very harmful to eagles which ate fish contaminated by DDT. DDT consumption would cause the eagles to lay eggs whose shells were so thin that they would collapse very easily, and hundreds of infant eagles died before hatching.
Thankfully, in the 1970s, DDT was finally banned. Since that time, conservation efforts have restored Bald Eagles to a thriving population.
Golden Eagles: Fun Facts
Wanna know even more cool stuff about Golden Eagles? Read on!
Golden Eagles Are Great at Co-Parenting
As you already know, Golden Eagles mate for life. Although female Golden Eagles lay the eggs, both parents will incubate them. Furthermore, the father will typically deliver food to the nest, and the mother will feed it to the young.
Many Golden Eagle Populations Have Been Rebuilt through “Hacking”
“Hacking” is a process that is rebuilding populations of Golden Eagles. Captive lab-reared Golden Eagle nestlings are fed at a nest-like hack site until they turn 12 weeks old, at which point they are released into the wild.
If you’re looking for eagles in Montana, now you know where to find them! Both the ferocious Bald Eagle and majestic Golden Eagle are well within your reach if you just know where to look.
Image Credit: Tomas Calle Boyero, Shutterstock