The Aging of Bald Eagles

I was asked today at Lock and Dam 14, how I could tell the age of the different eagles. Today there was a 4th year bird that was very active.  I call the four year olds a dirty bird (They don’t sell well).

The Bald Eagle that most everyone can identify is the adult.  This bird is described as:  large size; bright white head, neck and tail: dark brown body and wings; and bright yellow bill.  It takes 5 years to reach this plumage.

The 1st year bird is a very dark bird.  The body of this bird is two shades of brown; darker on the breast and lighter brown on the lower body.  There is no whitish triangle on the back, the upper wings are two toned brown and the bill is dark.  The head is dark as well.

First Year Bird:PBKJ6687-FrameShop

Second Year Bird:


The 2nd and 3rd year birds look different from the 4th year.  The belly shows white marks.  There will also be dramatic white patches that appear in the wing-pits.  The whitish triangle often appears on the upper back of the bird and the top of the head is often whitish.  All of these markings appear on the 2nd and 3rd year bird, but a way to tell the difference between a 2nd and 3rd year bird is the tail feathers.  The 3rd year birds have all but maybe 1 of the flight feathers that are the same length…giving the trailing edge a smooth or regular look.  The 2nd year birds only have about half of the flight feathers are longer than the others…this gives the appearance of ragged or irregular feathers.

Third Year Bird:PBKJ8088-FrameShopFourth Year Bird: (The Dirty Bird):PBKJ8608-FrameShop

Fifth year and older Bird:PBKJ8290-FrameShop

Eagles are now living to 20 to 25 years of age in the wilds. (Yeah!)

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9 thoughts on “The Aging of Bald Eagles

  1. I owe you a thank you. Thursday morning I was going through my blog reader and saw the shots you took on Tuesday. I hadn’t been planning to go to L&D 14 because I was there on Monday and nothing was happening. After seeing your shots I decided to go and had a great time. Probably would have spent the day watching football games I don’t care about if I hadn’t seen your post. Thanks for posting!
    I think I have a shot of the same dirty bird at the same moment.

  2. Not only are your photos amazing, but your description of each is so helpful and informative. Thank you for sharing.

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