The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is the largest of the birds of prey that live on Hilton Head Island, with a wingspan of about 74 inches, and an adult weight of up to about seven pounds. Breeding usually begins here in November, with a pair of experienced nesters returning to their nest of the previous year, and first year nesters looking for a nest site. Preferred nesting sites include large trees with open limb structure, near the water, with a good view of the surrounding area. The nest is made of large sticks and lined with softer material, and is reused for many years, with new material added each season. Because of this, nests get to be very large, often reaching 12 feet in height and 8 feet across! The female usually lays 2 eggs per season. Once hatched, the young remain on the nest for about 10-11 weeks, being fed by both parents. After leaving the nest, the young may return to the nest to rest or be fed. Bald eagles feed mostly on fish, but will also eat waterfowl (ducks, for example), carrion and stolen kills of other animals. The feathers of immature bald eagles are brown and white, and remain this way until the young become adults at 3-4 years and assume the coloration in the picture above.
Bald eagle populations in the lower 48 states plummeted to the brink of extinction in the mid 1900s, mostly due to the effects of pesticides like DDT. Under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, they have slowly made a successful comeback, and were removed from the Endangered Species list in 2007. They are still a protected species under both federal and state law, and it is illegal to harass them or harm them in any way.
In 2004, bald eagle populations in South Carolina numbered 190 pairs. They still face some major challenges, however, including loss of habitat, lead poisoning, electrocution by powerlines, barbiturate poisoning (from eating euthanized animals at landfills), and chemical contamination.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - All About Birds: www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/bald_eagle/id