Bald Eagles: Keeping Houston Wild

Words by Kelsey Low, Photography by Erik Hanson

One sunny day in late November 2015, I was walking near the meadow at the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center where I work as a naturalist. A shadow passed over my head. I looked up just in time to see a mature Bald Eagle soar over the treetops and off into the distance. Suddenly Houston seemed a little wilder. No other bird represents wilderness quite like Bald Eagles. They occur in forested areas across North America, from the coasts of Alaska to the swamps of the Everglades. Bald Eagles need tall trees to perch on and build their nests in, and they need healthy bodies of water (rivers, bayous, lakes, and bays) where they can find food like fish, waterfowl, and carrion. They also like to save energy, so they will steal prey from birds like Osprey if they can.

Photo credit Erik Hanson, The Iconic Bald Eagle, Photo credit by Erik Hanson at

If you ever meet someone who thinks Houston is an urban wasteland, tell them this: there are at least 30 Bald Eagle nests in the greater Houston area. One of the most famous local pairs nests near Lake Woodlands. They have re-used the same nest for the past four years. Bald Eagle nests are gigantic piles of sticks up to ten feet wide and four feet deep. Mated pairs of eagles stick together for life, and they often re-use nests year after year. In Texas, the breeding season lasts from October to June. It takes up to eight months to raise a single brood of one to three chicks.

The Woodlands Bald Eagle Nest, 2016. Photo Credit by Eri The Woodlands' Bald Eagle Nest, 2016. Photo Credit by Erik Hanson at

 Bald Eagles are striking birds. Reaching maturity at about four years of age, adults have dark brown bodies and pure white heads and tails. Young eagles start life totally dark brown with a bit of pale streaking, slowly gaining the white head and tail as they age. Females are larger than males, weighing up to 14 pounds with a wingspan of seven feet. Males weigh about seven pounds with a wingspan of six feet. Even though Bald Eagles are our national symbol, we nearly caused their extinction. Farmers and ranchers shot them, and pesticides like DDT built up in their bodies and caused their eggs to collapse. By the 1960s, there were fewer than 500 pairs left alive. Thankfully, a combination of legislation and conservation work allowed Bald Eagle populations to recover and thrive. In 1971, there were only five nests left in Texas. In 2005, there were 160 active nests. Bald Eagles are a majestic part of our national heritage and a true Texas treasure. You can help Bald Eagles continue to thrive by supporting habitat conservation, from federal wetland protection through Duck Stamps ( to local bayou greenspace preservation through the Bayou Land Conservancy (

You can also support responsible hunting practices, like using steel shot instead of toxic lead shot to avoid poisoning eagles (

Read up on federal laws protecting Bald Eagles ( and follow Texas Parks & Wildlife habitat management guides if Bald Eagles live on or near your property (

Keep Houston Wild! Story By Kelsey Low, my favorite birding friend!

Headline Photograph by By Murray Foubister -

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