Why Do Bald Eagles Have White Heads?

Why Do Bald Eagles Have White Heads

The bald eagle has been around for thousands of years and is one of the most iconic birds on the planet. There are some interesting facets to the bald eagle’s appearance though, one of the more obvious ones being their white heads, and why they are white, and indeed, not bald. 

The reasons why bald eagles have white heads is quite straightforward, here’s the lowdown…

Why do bald eagles have white heads? Bald eagles have white heads to help provide camouflage when hunting. The white heads are also believed to be attractive to mates.

The main reason though, is the camouflage aspects. This is particularly helpful during early spring, fall, and winter. The bald eagle’s white head allows him to hide from predators and prey.

Handy Hint: Bald eagles eat differently during winter due to the change in habits of their usual prey.

But their white heads are not just for camouflage alone. When they are not hunting, their bright white heads, yellow beaks, and starring eyes allow their presence to be known by other eagles or birds around.

bald eagle with white head
The classic look of an adult bald eagle with a white head (Image licensed via Storyblocks.com)

Do female bald eagles have a white head?

Unlike most male and female birds who will tend to have separate and distinctive coloring features, female bald eagles also have a white head. The difference between the two genders will be size, with the male being bigger than the female. 

The bald eagle is most certainly an exciting creature, and the color of their heads is not where their individuality ends. 

About bald eagles and their white heads

The bald eagle isn’t hatched with its magical white head. There has been extensive analysis on why its head turns from a dark brown to a white by the time they reach the age of 4 and a half years old. 

When the bald eagles’ head has turned entirely white, they have reached their “Definitive Plumage.”

Researchers still have not entirely determined why the bald eagle’s head turns white. Still, they have concluded that it happened due to the evolution and conservation process.

This means, to continue its existence and prolong its life cycle, the bald eagle has adapted and changed its coloring to catch prey easily and be seen as a threat to other eagles and birds. 

This is that aspect I camouflage I mentioned earlier. 

Are eagles bald eagles with white heads
Bald eagles have white heads to act as camouflage when flying and hunting their prey (Credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/eagle-raptor-birds-of-prey-bird-2776081/)

How many years does it take for a bald eagle’s head to turn white?

When a bald eagle is born, they have a thin layer of light grey feathers and a whiter layer of feather from their head to neck.

Although they do have pure white feathers after their first few weeks of life, these feathers do not appear on the bald eagle’s head but can be found on their belly, patches on their bodies, and wings.

A bald eagle’s head does not immediately turn white, and its mantle will darken throughout the next couple of weeks. This happens to protect them against the elements of nature, such as heat and cold. 

Furthermore, during their first year of life, the bald eagle’s feathers will change even more dramatically to a dark brown/black color which will now cover their bodies almost entirely.

The bald eagle will go through many different stages in its lifetime, which will change its appearance until it has reached adulthood, where it is then known as the distinctive, brown body and white head.

Molting and color changing

When a bald eagle goes through stages of growth, before they reach five years of age, they will likely go through molt stages each spring and complete this molt late fall.

By the time the bald eagle has reached adulthood (approximately 4 and a half to 5 years of age), their white feathers will have appeared and will primarily cover their head to neck, and be a starling white colors, with no darker hue colors. 

What is molting?

In birds, molting is when the animal sheds its feather to make place for new ones. 

So, for example, when a bald eagle molts, it makes way for new feathers that is better suited during that specific time in their life and so that when they reach adulthood, they can possess their flight feathers, which they will continue to molt at least once a year.

Related questions

To re-cap on some of the previous questions raised about why bald eagles have white heads.

Why female bald eagles have white heads

Male and female bald eagles both have white heads. They even have similar-looking bodies and stature. The way to tell them apart is through their size.

The female bald eagle will also go through various plumage stages, but they will also have brown bodies and white heads once they reach adulthood. 

When do baby bald eagle’s heads turn white?

The time may vary. It takes approximately 4 and a half to 5 and a half years for the bald eagle’s head to turn white. Before so, it goes through many color-changing situations and ultimately gets darker before turning lighter.

How many stages of development does the bald eagle go through?

The bald eagle goes through 8 total stages before it reaches maturity. In order, these are:

  • Juvenile Stage
  • Natal/Primary Down
  • Thermal/Secondary Down
  • Transitional
  • Juvenile
  • Basic stage 1 and 2
  • Basic stage 3
  • Definitive stage

To find out more about their plumage stages watch the following video.

Do baby bald eagles have white heads?

Baby bald eagles don’t have white heads; they can easily be confused with the Golden Eagle because of their brown heads. However, the colors aren’t as bright and gleaming as the Golden Eagle but rather a more dull, dirtier shade of brown. 

How many babies do bald eagles typically have?

In a lifetime, bald eagles will lay approximately 40 eggs. This comes down to them laying approximately one to three eggs per year. 

Their eggs only hatch 35 days after being laid. The bald eagle will start to fly around three weeks after hatching, although they will continue to use their nest as their home, where their parents will continue to care for them.

Why does the bald eagle represent America?

In 1782, on June the 20th, the bald eagle was chosen as an emblem for the United States of America. The bald eagle was chosen due to its majestic coloring, long life, and because it only exists on this specific content.

Identifying the bald eagle

Commonly the bald eagle is identified by their bright white heads and brown bodies. More so, their beaks and legs are bright yellows. 

These features are found in mature bald eagles as bald eagles less than a year old still have primarily brown feathers over their bodies and are molted with white feathers in different parts of their bodies.


The bald eagle is a fascinating, beautiful creature that has gone through years of the evolutionary process to obtain its white head. Furthermore, the bald eagles molting stages are an essential part of its famous adult coloring. 

And one last thing. They aren’t called bald eagles because they are “bald”. They are called bald eagles after the old English word “balde” which means white… hence bald eagles having white heads!

You might also like…

Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/bald-eagle-head-raptor-close-up-2715461/

Categorized as Birds