Do Bald Eagles Mate for Life? 4 Amazing Facts About These Loyal Birds

Written by Courtney Wennerstrom
Updated: August 2, 2023
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Eagles on a Perch

As birds who mate for life, bald eagles often demonstrate their intimacy by sitting side by side.

©Richard Lowthian/Shutterstock.com

Bald eagles command admiration with their powerful presence and captivating beauty. As the national symbol of the United States, these noble birds embody strength, freedom, and independence. Their striking white heads and tail feathers contrast strikingly against their dark brown bodies – creating a regal appearance and a commanding aura that reflects their status as the rulers of the skies. With an impressive wingspan – between 6 and 7.5 feet! – and keen eyesight, they are skilled hunters, primarily preying on fish, birds, and small mammals. As carnivorous birds of prey and opportunistic feeders, however, their diet varies drastically depending on what is available in their habitat. Agile, aerodynamic, and muscular, they possess remarkable stamina and are some of the largest birds of prey in North America. In short, they are remarkable birds.

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Beyond their physical prowess, bald eagles have complex social relationships. Primarily monogamous, they are profoundly devoted to their partners and offspring. Understandably, these magnificent creatures hold a special place in our hearts, symbolizing a harmonious blend of power, grace, and a soaring liberty we all admire. But they are also models for building healthy, sustainable relationships.Their fidelity to their life partners and dedication to their offspring exemplify commitment, loyalty, and selflessness. In a world that often values individual pursuits over our collective well-being, bald eagles remind us of the benefits of standing together, bound by love and a shared purpose.

Here are 4 amazing facts about these loyal and amorous birds.

1. Yes, Bald Eagles Mate for Life

Watch out humans on Valentine’s Day…romance is going to the birds! It’s true! Our feathered friends have a lot to teach us about wooing members of the opposite sex and finding our perfect match. Eagles are incredibly romantic. Like sandhill cranes, macaroni penguins, lovebirds, and trumpeter swans, these adoring birds choose and stay with one partner, until death do them part. This is a significant commitment, too, considering that they often live 20-30 years in the wild.

Monogamous and devoted, bald eagles take their romantic relationships very seriously. Fidelity has its evolutionary perks, of course – sparing eagles from the hassle of starting over every breeding season with someone new, and having to build a nest from scratch. But their exclusive commitments are also grounded in an authentic respect and closeness. For instance, they show affection by flying side by side, soaring through the skies as a pair, sitting shoulder to shoulder, and mutually preening and grooming each other’s feathers to maintain their glorious plumage and strengthen their bond.

If tragedy strikes and one eagle dies, the surviving eagle will go through an intense period of mourning before looking for love again. However, finding a new mate depends on potential partners in the area and the time of year. If a mate is lost during the breeding season, for instance, the surviving eagle may be more motivated to find a new partner to continue raising offspring as a team. On the other hand, if the loss occurs outside of the breeding season, the widow or widower may wait until the following year to go back on the proverbial market. Overall, while bald eagles can and do form new pair bonds, they also demonstrate a strong attachment to their previous partners and grieve before seeking a new connection.

2. Their Courtship is Mesmerizing

Humans on dating apps awkwardly swiping right and left could benefit from studying the elaborate courtship rituals of bald eagles. These majestic beings take romance to new heights. Literally. During the months of January to April, depending on the region and climate, bald eagles looking for love engage in breathtaking spiral sky dances, also called cartwheel courtship flights. In these stunning rituals, a male and female eagle soar high together into the sky, lock their talons, and then hold onto each other while swirling downwards in sophisticated synchronized free-falling spiral – separating just seconds before reaching the ground. A highlight of avian dating, this dramatic performance is as practical as it is beautiful. That’s because it allows eagles to gauge whether their communication is solid enough to make a life together. And so much depends on them getting it right.

As a powerful symbol of intimacy, this breathtaking aerial spectacle has real-life implications for a couple’s romantic endeavors. If the eagles aren’t in sync or fail to perform the dance properly, the courtship often ends. After all, a lack of coordination or understanding does not bode well for overall compatibility and successful copulation. Mating for life requires testing a relationship to make sure that they will be able to properly tackle challenges as a team.

In these ways and without anthropomorphizing, it seems fair to say that the cartwheel courtship flight mirrors a human wedding. As ceremonial events that solidify a commitment, both have choreographed movements, symbolic gestures, and a kind of exchanging of vows or acrobatic promises. Moreover, both events are deeply rooted in tradition and culture. Bald eagle courtship displays have been practiced for generations, ensuring the continuation of their species. Similarly, weddings draw from cultural customs, passed down through time, that foster love, community and familial bonds.

3. Bald Eagles Have a True Partnership

Adult Bald Eagles on Nest at Magee marsh

A bonded pair of bald eagles build and nurture their nests and raise their offspring together as a team.

©Dennis W Donohue/Shutterstock.com

Bald eagles have quite a modern relationship dynamic – sharing household duties, so to speak, and co-parenting, just like we do. Once they’ve found their special someone, they collaborate to create the perfect love nest. They either fix up their current pad – what experts call nestoration– or build a fancy new one in a secure location near the water. And get this: they’re co-parenting champs! Mom and dad take turns incubating their eggs. And once the little ones hatch, both parents actively provide food and protection – switching off to hunt. Together, they maintain a steady supply of nourishment for their growing eaglets.

Unsurprisingly, bald eagle parents are also fiercely protective of their young. Hypervigilant, they maintain a watchful eye over their nest. Quick to defend their home from potential threats, they react swiftly and forcefully to predators and human disturbances. To this end, bald eagle can be quite intimidating, vocalizing loudly and performing menacing aerial displays to deter intruders.

Siblings Baby Bald Eagles in Nest

Bald eagles exhibit a strong and unwavering protective instinct towards their young. They diligently safeguard their offspring from potential harm.

©wendy blanchard/Shutterstock.com

4. Together, They are Great Teachers

As dutiful parents, bald eagles’ nurturing extends far past simply feeding and caring for their babies when they are little. As the eaglets grow, mom and dad play a crucial role in teaching essential survival skills. For instance, demonstrating flight techniques, hunting methods, and vital skills for living independently in the wild. These lessons continue once the young eagles are fledging from the nest. Around 10 to 12 weeks after hatching, the young eagles become strong enough to leave the home they have always known. During this critical stage, the parents continue to provide support, monitoring their fledglings and offering guidance as they explore their surroundings and develop their flying abilities.

Even after fledging, young eagles may receive food and advice from their parents for several weeks or even months as they gain confidence and independence. Bald eagles ensure their offspring are equipped with the necessary knowledge to thrive in the world. These types of parental partnerships serve as a poignant reminder that cooperation is the foundation for healthy family dynamics. By caring for their young ones with passion and fervor, they help their babies soar and survive!

Because bald eagles mate for life, they truly have each other’s backs and are doting caregivers, too.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Jennifer Yakey-Ault/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Courtney Wennerstrom is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on pet wellness and the human-animal bond. As an animal welfare professional, Courtney has been writing and researching about animals for over a decade and holds an PhD (ABD) in English from Indiana University, Bloomington, where she taught for 15 years. A resident of Colorado, Courtney loves to hike, travel, and read. She finds inspiration from her rescued huskies, Sasha and Saint, and her beloved rescued cat, Mojo.

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