2 Types of Eagles Found in Michigan! (ID Guide)

What types of eagles can you find in Michigan?

common types of eagles in michigan

Whenever they appear, I make sure to stop and watch these incredible birds of prey. I’m always amazed at their beauty, large size, and astonishing ability to soar at extreme heights! And I’m not alone, as eagles have a special place in many people’s hearts and minds. These majestic birds symbolize many things, such as freedom, courage, honesty, inspiration, victory, and pride.

Unlike other raptors, there are not many eagle species that reside in Michigan. In fact, there are only a few species that can be observed on the entire continent.

Below are the TWO eagles that live in Michigan!

Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which eagles live near you! For each species, I have included a few photographs, along with their most common sounds, to help you identify any birds you are lucky enough to observe.


#1. Bald Eagle

  • Haliaeetus leucocephalus

common eagles in michigan

The Bald Eagle is one of the most recognizable birds in the world!

But did you know that the “Bald” portion of their name has nothing to do with not having feathers on their head? As you can clearly see, these eagles have white feathers covering their entire face with no bald spots anywhere. Their name actually stems from an Old English word “piebald,” which means “white patch” and refers to their bright white heads.

commons eagles in michigan

While almost everyone knows what a full-grown Bald Eagle looks like, trying to correctly identify juvenile birds is tricky. These eagles don’t get their characteristic white head and dark brown body until they are FIVE YEARS OLD. Until then, these birds have all sorts of different plumages and streaky browns and whites on their bodies. Even their beak changes color! It takes A LOT of practice and experience to identify young Bald Eagles properly!

Bald Eagles are found across Michigan!

After almost going extinct in the mid 20th century due to DDT poisoning, these raptors are a true success story. They are most commonly seen around bodies of water.

Bald Eagle Range Map

The reason that Bald Eagles are found around water is that they mostly eat fish! Look for them around marshes, lakes, coasts, and rivers. The BEST areas are forests near large bodies of water that provide good fishing AND tall trees for nesting sites.

Did you know that Bald Eagles build the largest nests in the world?

Their nests start “small,” but eagles add new layers each year. The biggest one EVER found was 10 feet wide (3 meters) and 20 feet tall (6 meters) and weighed in at 3 tons! Bald Eagles would keep adding to their nests each year, but what happens is that the structures get so heavy they eventually fall out of the tree, and the birds have to start over.

YouTube video

Press PLAY above to hear a Bald Eagle!

The Bald Eagle probably doesn’t sound like what you think. If you imagine an intimidating eagle call, then you would be wrong. I think they sound more like a gull, with trills and little whistles. In fact, movie directors are so unimpressed with the sounds a Bald Eagle makes, it’s common for them to use the call of a Red-tailed Hawk instead for dramatic effect!

With unmatched eyesight, it is not at all surprising that Bald Eagles hunt from as high as 10,000 feet (3 km) in the air. Their vision is about eight times better than humans. More importantly, these eagles can see into the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum. This adaptation is helpful because it allows them to see past the reflections on the water’s surface and find fish that would otherwise be invisible in the glare.

Length: 28-40 inches / 70-102 cm

Weight: 6.5-15 lbs / 3-7 kg

Wingspan: 71-91 inches / 1.8-2.3 meters


#2. Golden Eagle

  • Aquila chrysaetos

species of eagles in michigan

Golden Eagles are incredibly fast and agile, which makes them expert hunters. Where Bald Eagles mostly eat fish, these eagles almost always eat mammals. Their favorite prey includes rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, marmots, and prairie dogs. But these raptors have been known to hunt and kill animals as large as small deer, seals, mountain goats, coyotes, and badgers!

They have even been known to snatch a bear cub for dinner. Talk about bravery (or stupidity?)! 🙂

Golden Eagles are dark brown with gold feathers on the backs of their necks, which is how they got their name. Juvenile birds have white patches on their wings and tails. Immature Bald Eagles and adult Golden Eagles look similar and can be easily confused.

golden eagle vs bald eagle juvenile - common eagles in michigan

The distinguishing feature between these two birds is that the Bald Eagle doesn’t mind showing a little leg, whereas the Golden Eagle has feathers all the way down to the top of their feet.

These powerful raptors typically mate for life. To impress a female, male birds will pick up a stick or a rock and fly up high, only to drop it. Then the eagle will enter a dive to catch the object again before it hits the ground! Once a pair is together, it’s common for them to hunt cooperatively, where one individual ambushes the prey and drives it towards the second bird to make the kill.

Golden Eagles are known to like cliffs to build their nests on, but also have no problem using trees, observation towers, or nesting platforms. These raptors have even been known to nest on the ground! The most important feature these birds look for when it comes to building a nest is it needs to have a good view of its surroundings.

Golden Eagle Range Map

golden eagle range map

Golden Eagles are not commonly seen in Michigan!

These birds prefer vast open areas such as landscapes that include cliffs, mountains, or hills. You can also spot these birds in grasslands, farmlands, shrublands, arctic tundra, and coniferous woodlands.

YouTube video

 

These eagles are not extremely noisy, and their calls sound like whistles that are weak and high. Just like Bald Eagles, for such a powerful raptor, you would think Golden Eagles would have a much more intimidating sound!

Length: 26-40 inches / 66-100 cm

Weight: 6.5-16 lbs / 3-7 kg

Wingspan: 71-91 inches / 1.8-2.3 meters


Do you need help identifying eagles?

Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will assist! (Links below take you to Amazon)


Which of these eagles have you seen before in Michigan?

Leave a comment below!


To learn more about other raptors near you, check out these guides!

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13 Comments

  1. We have a golden on our 120 acres that we see all the time & there are several around. I saw 4 Goldens & about 10 balds feeding on a deer carcass about a mile up the road from us (in Pickford). I see a bald eagle almost every day in the UP driving. Love it!!

  2. We have them living in the woods behind our home near Armada, MI. It’s a rural area between Detroit and Port Huron. We have also seen them up north in Gladwin. We spotted a nest at a golf course near Port Huron. That was truly a sight to see. It reminded me of Big Birds nest on Sesame Street – except it was high in the top of the tree.

  3. I saw a golden eagle here in Mount Morris. I was in the truck waiting for my husband and this beautiful eagle flew down to almost touch the ground then it flew over the truck and touched down and walked around for a few minutes. I was so lucky to have watched this beautiful bird it was the first time that I have ever seen one. The wing span is very big a truly majestic bird.

  4. Ive seen a bald eagle fly right over my house outside of St.Johns, MI. I also saw one eating a dead deer that had been hit by a car, same area.

  5. The last few days we’ve spotted a bald eagle at least five times soaring along the Lake Huron shore in Greenbush. Once it was on the beach eating a large dead fish. Such majestic birds!

  6. This year I had a golem eagle here on a deer carcass I thought I saw one last year as well. I did some investigating and for sure he is a golden eagle. There were bald eagles and juveniles with him. Very impressive birds I must say. Our property is on the Bear creek in northwestern Michigan. We have many eagles that live along the rivers. Quite a treat to get to watch them!

  7. We went to my dad’s gravesite today as it was the 1 year anniversary of his death. When we got there we saw a bunch of birds that looked like golden eagles. They were soaring way up high and would come down and looked like a plane landing! Then one came from far away and came straight towards us, we could see his face very clearly, and he flew DIRECTLY OVER MY DAD’S GRAVE, went on a bit and then went straight up, just like a “fly over” like an F-14 would do when an important person dies. My dad was in the Navy! I know that God sent that bird! Whether it was a Golden Eagle or just some kind of hawk, it was beautiful! There were at least 25 of them all sitting in a couple trees and on the ground and some of them were fighting with each other! I’d really like to find out if they were Golden Eagles! But I’m not sure how to!

  8. We have several here in Holland, MI. I see them sour on the lakeshore of Lake Michigan. I saw one last week on Lake Macatawa catch a large fish in front of our dock and carry it up to the trees. What a view.

  9. I have seem several bald eagles in Michigan. One in Elberta, one just outside of Benzonia on M-115 on the side of the road eating on a dead carcass, two on 16 Rd. between Mesick and Manton. Another that my husband and I saw kind of hovering over the road outside of Buckley when we went two tracking. A friend of mine lives in Onekama and there is a pair of bald eagles there that had two eggs and she kept everyone updated every week on her sighting of the eagles and the eggs and when they hatched, she told us when it happened. God has blessed me with so many eagle sightings. I did have another eagle sighting but I cannot remember where it was, but I do remember I was walking that day. It was so spectacular and very special.