Airplanes do not fly forever. At one point, they get too old, then they get decommissioned, after which they are recycled or disposed of. The case of eagles is a bit similar. They also do not fly forever, at one point, they have to die.
But how do eagles die? Well, eagles die in more ways than one. As expected, eagles can die naturally. Natural death occurs after they reach the end of their lifespan or when they die of sicknesses. But apart from natural death, eagles are killed by poison, hunting, and accidents.
What is the expected lifespan for eagles? What kind of sickness kills eagles? We shall answer these questions and more in the following paragraphs.
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How Do Eagles Die
Eagles can die naturally, from old age as many other animals do. But in recent times, dying of non-natural causes has become more common. Unnatural deaths for eagles can be caused by poison, hunting, and accidents.
Their bodies grow old, they become weak, and they die. Apart from dying of old age, eagles can also die of sickness.
One disease that is known to kill bald eagles is the West Nile Virus. The virus is of the flavivirus genera, and these eagles are known to get it when they eat infected prey.
The West Nile Virus is carried by mosquitoes. Although many species carry the virus, the Culex species are the main vectors in the United States.
The ease of transmitting this infection is facilitated by the virus’s resilience. The virus even stays infectious in the remains of dead prey for some days, and this makes it easier for bald eagles to become infected.
Another virus recently discovered in bald eagles is the Bald Eagle Hepacivirus (BeHV). It is suspected to cause the Wisconsin River Eagle Syndrome (WRES). The virus is said to be similar to the hepatitis C virus in humans, and it might affect the livers of bald eagles too.
Some of the symptoms of WRES are seizures, tremors, brain damage, and death. Now, the BeHV virus has also been detected in eagles that are asymptomatic. This puts a question mark on whether the virus is the actual cause of the disease.
Besides the said diseases, eagles can get many other infections. The infections might come when they consume infected kill or when their wounds are contaminated.
Eagles in the wild are unlikely to get treatment from a veterinarian, so the infections usually kill them.
While death by disease is not fun to explore in any species, it is still considered a natural death so long as the disease wasn’t artificially introduced.
When they do not die of old age or sickness, the death of an eagle is unnatural. The following are some causes of unnatural deaths in eagles:
Wind turbines are one of the most significant causes of unnatural death in eagles. In their flight, some eagles get caught in the blade of the turbine and are killed.
The Wildlife Society Bulletin published a study on the rate at which wind turbines kill birds. This study estimated that, in the United States, over 550,000 birds are killed by wind turbines every year. This number includes eagles and many other predatory/migratory birds.
Eagles are apex predators, so they are not preyed on by other animals. But while mature eagles have no predators, their eggs and nestlings can fall prey to predators.
Raccoons, ravens, and squirrels are some of the scavengers that attack the eggs and nestlings of eagles. But parents are usually around to defend their eggs/nestlings, so scavenging does not often occur.
In the United States, it is illegal to hunt bald eagles and golden eagles. The law to protect bald and golden eagles was initiated when these species became endangered.
They were later delisted from the endangered species act when they recovered their population, but the law still protects them.
But even with this law in place, some people still hunt eagles. These hunters shoot at the birds or poison them with bait animals.
In some cases, they trap animals that eagles prey on to bait eagles. When an eagle perches down to capture the prey, they get trapped. The traps can injure and kill the eagle, or they can hold the eagle long enough for it to starve and die.
Insecticides such as DDT are known to have negative effects on eagles. In the mid-1900s, DDT was one of the leading causes of the drastic fall in the population of eagles in the United States.
But DDT has since been banned in the United States, so it is not a threat to eagles any more.
Lead is another main cause of poisoning in eagles. This type of poisoning occurs when eagles feast on dead animals killed with lead bullets.
Even when they consume an amount of lead about the size of a grain of rice, they can die. When an eagle is suffering from lead toxicity, it will show symptoms such as seizures, nervous impairment, difficulties landing, weakness, and pain.
If an eagle is not properly treated after it has been poisoned with lead, it will most likely die.
North American Eagles & Where to Find Them
There are about 60 species of eagles worldwide. Most of them are native to Africa, Europe, and Asia, but there’s none in Antarctica.
Of these 60 species, only 2 are native to North America. These species are the golden eagle and the bald eagle.
The golden eagle is the largest North American bird of prey. You’ll find this bird in various parts of North America including, Alaska. Besides North America, you’ll find them in Mexico, Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
Some golden eagles are migratory, especially those in Canada and Alaska. From fall to winter, when it’s colder, they migrate towards the southern states. But as it gets warmer, they migrate far north. Others, like those in western continental U.S., rarely move away from their environment.
Bald eagles are present all over North America and Mexico, but there are more of them in Alaska and Canada. Since they love eating fishes, they are more concentrated in coastal areas of North America.
Bald eagles can also be migratory. From fall to winter, when the rivers are frozen, the available food falls, so they move to the south. Then when it becomes warmer, they move back to the north. Those in coastal areas remain in their environment year-round.
On average, the lifespan of a bald eagle living in the wild is 20 years, while that of a golden eagle is 30 years.
But in captivity, these eagles can live longer. Vets are available to treat them, they are not exposed to illegal hunters, they always have food, and they are sheltered from the harshness of the wild. Hence, the higher life expectancy.
Eagles are apex predators and are not usually in danger of being killed by other animals. But most of their deaths are a result of unnatural causes. Some of these causes include getting caught in wind turbines, crashing into the windscreen of moving cars, getting caught in overhead electric cables, and many more.