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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Fish & Wildlife > Nongame & Endangered Wildlife > Wildlife Diversity - Ornithology > Bald Eagles > Indiana Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture & Osprey Indiana Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture & Osprey

Bald Eagle

Bald EagleThe magnificent Haliaeetus leucocephalis, "white-headed sea eagle," or bald eagle is 27 to 35 inches tall with a 71-90- inch wingspan.

Active flight is with slow, powerful wingbeats. They soar and glide usually on flat wings. Bald eagles have a noticeable, unusual flight behavior of banking and flapping their wings vigorously while vertical.

The bald eagle received its name from the distinctive pure white head, neck and tail. Adults also have a brown-black body and a large yellow bill. Adult males and females look the same, however the female is larger.

Juveniles are mostly dark brown, except for blotchy white underneath and on the wing linings, but gain a little more white at each molt, taking four to five years to reach the full adult plumage.

Bald eagles are usually found near lakes and rivers where they can prey on their favorite food, fish. They also take a variety of other prey including waterfowl, regularly eat carrion, dead animals, and will steal food from other raptors.

Bald eagles have a 35-day incubation period and will leave the nest at about ten weeks old.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey VultureThe large turkey vulture can be easily confused with the bald eagle. Adults are 24 to 28 inches tall with a wingspan between 63 and 71 inches.

They live primarily in open country, woodlands and near farms. Their primary diet is made up of carrion. There are isolated cases of turkey vultures catching live fish or attacking live animals that are sick or incapacitated.

Turkey vultures are extremely common but can be distinguished easily from other raptors with its distinct flying behavior. In flight, it has long wings and glides with its wings held in a shallow V-shape.

Adult turkey vultures have a featherless red head with whitish warts in front of and below the eyes. Their reddish-neck is wrinkled and the beak is whitish in color. The entire body is brownish or gray-black and the underwing is two-toned silver and black.

Juvenile turkey vultures have a darker head and bill and paler feet than the adult. The eggs are incubated by both parents and takes about 40 days. The young leave the nest at about 11 weeks after hatching. Turkey vultures are named for their resemblance (red head) to the turkey. "Vulture" comes from the Latin word that means tearer, in reference to its manner of eating.

Osprey

The osprey, sometimes called the "fish hawk" or "fish eagle," is found along rivers, lakes and streams. They are usually found near water and leave it only during migration. The osprey population was once threatened by the use of DDT, but since this and other pesticides have been banned, populations nationwide are recovering.

Osprey
Photo courtesy of
Steve Hillebrand/USFWS

Osprey are anatomically different from other raptors primarily in their superb fish-catching features. Adults are between 21 and 26 inches tall and have a wingspan of 59 to 67 inches.

With bright yellow eyes, gray, black and white under-feathers the osprey can be differentiated from the bald eagle. Young are downy white and leave the nest around 2 months after hatching. The juvenile has similar coloring to the adult but has white scaling on its back.

The adult bird has long narrow wings, held above horizontal and slightly arched in flight with a distinct bend at the wrist. In flight, their gull-like crooked wings and white head with wide black eye-stripe are distinctive. Active flight is with slow, steady, shallow wingbeats. Ospreys will sometimes soar on flat wings and hover frequently while hunting over water.

Osprey will catch prey with their feet after a feet-first dive, usually from a hover but sometimes from a glide. They usually enter the water completely and are able to take off from the surface shake off excess water while in flight. They are almost exclusively fish eaters, but their diet has been reported to include birds, turtles and small mammals.

Compare the Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, and Osprey in Flight

 

The bald eagle flies with its wings stretched out flat.

The bald eagle flies with its wings stretched out flat.

 

The turkey vulture flies with its wings arched in a V-shape.

The turkey vulture flies with its wings arched in a V-shape.

 

To better catch fish, the osprey flies horizontally with its wings bent at the wrist.

Osprey in flight