West Virginia is arguably one of the best locations for eagles to nest and hunt. With an ample number of forests, creeks, rivers, and mountains, it is the perfect habitat for these birds of prey.
If you are looking for eagles in West Virginia, then you will encounter 2 species of eagles in this mountain state: bald eagles and golden eagles. Bald eagles are year-round residents and migrate from the north during the winter.
On the other hand, most golden eagles in West Virginia migrate for the winter from Canada, Alaska, and the Northern parts of the US. That being said, there are some permanent residents living in the forests that you might encounter occasionally.
Different Species of Eagle Found in West Virginia
It is extremely rare to find other species of eagles apart from bald eagles and golden eagles in West Virginia.
The count of bald eagles topples the count of golden eagles. This is due to the fact that many bald lives permanently in the lake and riversides of West Virginia while most golden eagles just migrate from the north to live out the cold winter.
|Name||Bald Eagle||Golden Eagle|
|Feather Color||White feathers covering the head and the neck, while the rest is filled with dark brown feathers.||Deep brown feathers covering from head to toe.|
|Primary Food||Fishes||Small to medium-sized mammals|
|Mating Season||Early winter to late spring.||Early spring to late summer.|
|Unique Feature||White feathers on the head||Feathers covering from the leg to toe.|
|Visible in West Virginia||The entire year, numbers increase at the beginning of winter, from September to late March||Late October to the beginning of spring in March|
1. Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
- Length: 27.9 to 40 inches
- Weight: 105 to 223 oz
- Wingspan: 70 to 90 inches
- Commonly Found In: Parkersburg, Maitland, Blennerhassett Island, Near riverbanks and trees near water bodies nearby
Bald eagles are the most common species of eagles you will encounter in West Virginia. There are at least 200 bald eagles currently residing in West Virginia. This number increases as soon as the winter season begins as other bald eagles from the northern side of the United States start to migrate to West Virginia.
During this winter period (around early September), the overall percentage of bald eagles in West Virginia increased by around 6 to 10%.
They are often spotted near rivers and water bodies. As they prefer fish as their primary food, this is quite understandable. These birds generally make their nests in tall trees and marshes, so it can be a bit difficult to locate their nests if they are way too high up.
Many migrated bald eagles hang around Parkersburg and its surrounding area due to its food convenience.
Behavior & Characteristics
Let’s learn how bald eagles behave and what are some of their key characteristics:
Body & Feathers
Bald eagles have white feathers that cover their entire face & neck. Apart from the head, the rest of their body is covered with deep brown feathers. There are grey & white highlights on older eagles, while the younger ones have completely dark feathers. The birds also have yellow beaks and talons.
The female eagles are almost 25% larger than the male females. Both male and female have strong body constitution and a wide wingspan that allows them to be quite agile while maintaining body balance.
Their superior eyesight and agile body allow them to hunt from elevated places. These birds like to stalk their prey until the right time and then snoop down with incredible speed to catch their target.
Both their talons and beaks are used for hunting, but the talons are the primary choice. The beaks are only used when they are hunting in shallow water, or the fish is extremely close to the water surface.
Bald eagles are extremely social compared to other species, like the white-tailed eagle. They only hunt fishes that get closer to the surface, so unless they are provoked, they won’t attack people or animals. In West Virginia, there haven’t been any major bald eagle attacks.
These birds like to make their nests in trees that are close open water bodies. This is due to the fact that they want to stay close to their food source. That’s why they might also build their nests in empty watch towers or church tops. In West Virginia, many bald eagle nests are found on top of cliffs.
The nests are 4 to 6 feet wide, making it comfortable for more than one eagle. Nests are mostly made out of sticks, rocks, and leaves. These nests take quite a long period to be properly built. Almost a year, to be precise.
To preserve the longevity of their nests, they add a new layer of sticks and leaves every year. This makes these nests quite heavy, making them go over several tons at times.
Bald eagle’s calls are like seagull calls if they were coming out of a whistle. This high-pitched call isn’t much intimidating when start to compare the serious look of bald eagles.
You can expect to hear them call out during the mating seasons or when they are facing any sort of threats, or when they are feeding their children.
Mating & Breeding Season
Like most eagles found in the USA, these birds pick their partners for life and only look for another if one of them dies first.
Early winter is the beginning of the mating season for these birds. They will start it from the first weeks of October to almost to the last few weeks of May. Bald eagles are able to produce offspring when they reach maturity, which is the age of 4.
Facts About Bald Eagles
Here, we’ll go through some facts about bald eagles that you may not be aware of:
Bald Refers to the White Patch of Feathers
Many might think a bald eagle is an eagle that doesn’t have feathers on its head. But that is not the case for bald eagles. The word ‘bald’ comes from the old English word ‘Piebald’ that says ‘White Patch’.
This refers to the white feathers that cover a bald eagle’s head. So, it is not a naming mistake the old English is just slightly different from the current one.
They Were Enlisted as Endangered Species Not So Long Ago
The number of bald eagles was steadily declining half a century ago. In all across America, it was listed that there were only 417 nesting pairs remaining in 1963. Due to this fact, in 1978, they were put on the endangered species list under the Endangered Species Act.
The main reason behind this rapid decline of bald eagles was the destruction of their habitats and the rise in the illegal hunting of bald eagles. This danger of extinction passed over after the government presented strict laws, and in 2006, they were removed from the list of endangered species.
Now there are around 316,700 bald eagles roaming in the US and there are more than 200 bald eagles roaming the West Virginia area currently.
Young Bald Eagles Are Identical to Golden Eagles
Their unique feature is the white feathers won’t start showing up until they are 5 years old. Until then, their head is filled with deep brown feathers which are identical to a golden eagle.
2. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
- Length: 26 to 40 inches
- Weight: 105 to 216 oz
- Wingspan: 71 to 96 inches
- Commonly Found In: Forests in West Virginia, Bloomingrose area
There aren’t many golden eagles that are residing in West Virginia. That being said, the numbers aren’t so low that it will be a rare occasion. You might not see them all year long, but they are quite a common sight during the winter season.
So from early November to late March, you will find them in the forests and even in the city skylines from time to time in West Virginia.
Behavior & Characteristics
Here are the behavioral patterns and characteristics of golden eagles:
Body & Feathers
Golden eagles have a light body with sharp talons and wide wings that makes them extremely agile and strong compared to other birds of prey.
They have golden-brown feathers over their neck, while the remaining part of their body is completely filled with brown feathers with a hint of white highlight. Their eyes are either yellow or dark brown. Their beaks and talons are of a similar brownish color to their feathers.
For young golden eagles, their feather color tends to be darker. The males are also smaller compared to the females.
They prefer a stealthy approach, but if that fails, these birds are known to take an opponent head first. Golden eagles prefer small to mid-sized mammals like squirrels, rabbits, and marmots. You might also find them attacking mountain goats, deer, and badgers. Sometimes they even snatch up bear cubs.
These birds of prey hunt with their partners. One partner will drive the prey in the direction of the other partner. And the other partner will go in for the kill. They might also attack simultaneously depending on the size and nature of the prey.
Mostly young golden eagles act without partners. When going solo, they will try to swoop in and take away their prey. The high agility of these creatures shines in this situation.
For hunting, they use their talons for their attacks. The beak is for eating only.
They won’t back down if you provoke them otherwise, they are quite peace-loving birds. So you don’t have to be on guard if you encounter them. Just don’t do anything that makes them feel like you are about to attack them, and you will be fine.
Golden eagles love elevated places and look to build their nest where they can see almost everything around them. This is why West Virginia is one of the hotspots for many golden eagles to migrate in winter. The forests and open spaces are something that they adore.
They build their nests even on the ground if they are close to a hunting area and they have a good view of their surrounding atmosphere.
Both partners work to build the nests. They both gather the ingredients and construct the nest together. Their nests are 5 to 8 feet wide. Every year, there is a new layer of sticks, moss, and leaves added by the eagles to secure the longevity of the nests.
The calls of golden eagles are like a high-pitched intensive whistle. It is a bit deeper and loud compared to the calls of bald eagles. It can be heard from a good amount of distance, they use this call when they are hunting, mating, or facing any threats.
Mating & Breeding Season
Golden eagles pick their partners for life. Once they have selected their mate, they are inseparable. They go through a mating ritual to select their partners.
To impress the female, the male eagle will either pick up a rock or stick and then fly up very high, carrying it. Once the bird has reached a good height, he will drop the stone or stick and then dive forward to catch the stone or stick before it touches the ground.
If the female eagle is impressed with this activity, then they will become a pair otherwise, the male eagle will try to find another partner.
Golden eagles start mating when they are 3 or 4 years old. Their mating season starts at the beginning of spring in March and ends around late summer in August.
Interesting Facts about Golden Eagles
There are quite a few interesting facts regarding golden eagles. Take a look at some of them, you might be surprised:
Different Feather Structure than Others
Golden eagles are the only species that have their feathers covering from their leg all the way up to their toes. This distinguishing feature of golden eagles allows us to identify them as young bald eagles.
Keeps Protection to Avoid Bugs at Home
Many golden eagle nests are filled with different kinds of herbs and aromatics. They bring these to their nests in order to create a protective aroma that will keep bugs and insects away from their home.
As they hold on to a nest for a long period, taking care of it is quite understandable. But most eagles only add a new layer to improve their nests, while golden eagles take the extra step and bring in bug-protecting vegetation as well.
Male Eagles Incubate the Eggs with Female Eagles
The male eagle also partakes when it comes to incubating the eggs. In contrast, the female eagle does the incubation for the longest. The male eagle participates when the female gets tired and needs rest or wants to go out hunting.
When the male eagle is incubating the eggs, the female might sometime feed the male eagle food.
Both bald eagles and golden eagles are active in West Virginia all year long. But if you want to see the eagles in West Virginia, then winter is the best time to spot them. There are multiple locations all across the mountain state where you can find them.
So just follow this guide, and you will be able to find out where they are, how they behave, and when they will be active in West Virginia. So, best of luck!
Featured Image Credit: RLS Photo, Shutterstock