An Anecdotal History of Bald Eagle Nests in America


Early rendition of the national emblem — from a 1975 official first-day cover, issued to commemorate new postal rates.

Written By: Jim Wright  for Duke Farms and Conserve Wildlife Foundation

Our  2015 nesting eason story thus far:  The female Bald Eagle has laid two eggs this season, on 2/16-17/15 and 2/20/15. Incubation takes approx. 5 weeks. You can view the nest on streaming video here.

Lewis and Clark stamps smallOne of the longest-lasting Bald Eagle nests in United States history may have been a nest first reported by the Lewis and Clark expedition in Montana in the early 1800s.

Here’s how Meriwether Lewis described the nest:

“Below this fall at a little distance a beautiful little Island well timbered is situated about the middle of the river, in this Island on a Cottonwood tree an Eagle has placed her nest; a more inaccessible spot I believe she could not have found; for neither man nor beast dare pass those gulfs which separate her little domain from the shores.”

Photographer unknown, 1880s. The eagle's island is just above photo center.

Pictured just above the photo’s center is the island on the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark discovered a Bald Eagle nest in 1805. Photographed by J.C. Cowles, 1880s. Courtesy of the Cascade County History Museum, Great Falls, Montana.

Fifty-five years later, Capt. William F. Raynolds, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, reported that there was still an eagle’s nest in a cottonwood tree on the island.

Reynolds even saw “this peculiarly American bird” perched  nearby and wondered if it might be the very same bird Lewis had seen (highly unlikely; the nest may have been replaced as well).

Another government expedition reported an eagle nest and an eagle perched nearby on the same island 12 years later.  “The sight of this eagle was to me one of the most peculiarly pleasant incidents of our reconnaissance.”  reported an engineer named Thomas P. Roberts.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, “The largest bird’s nest was built by a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), and possibly their successors, near St. Petersburg, Florida, and measured 2.9 m (9 feet, 6 inches) wide and 6 m (20 ft) deep.

“It was examined in 1963 and was estimated to weigh more than two tons (4,409 pounds).”

Indian Lake Nest postcard 1912 img336In the early 1900s, one Bald Eagle nest in a park in Ohio was so famous that you could actually buy a postcard of a photo of the nest, even after the eagles stopped nesting there.

The park,  now Indian Lake State Park, is located in Lakeview, Ohio.

In case you are wondering, Bald Eagles are  nesting in the park again — a century later — on one or two  islands.

And they do have a maple sugar festival next week.

Got a question or suggestion? E-mail Jim Wright at

Jim Wright writes “The Bird Watcher” columnist for The Record and the Herald-News. He is the author of four coffee-table books about wild places, and the deputy marsh warden of the Celery Farm Natural Area in Allendale, N.J.

Next week:  The Duke Farms Eagle Cam

Yesterday: Eagle Nests — the Big Picture.

Last week: The Duke Farms Eagle Nest Itself.

Two weeks ago: A Brief History of Bald Eagle Eggs in New Jersey and All About Duke Farms’ Bald Eagle Eggs.

Three weeks ago: Bald Eagle basics.

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One Response to An Anecdotal History of Bald Eagle Nests in America

  1. Pingback: All About the Duke Farms Eagle Nest | Behind the Stone Walls

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