Bald Eagles

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Bald Eagles in Kentucky

Please Do Not Report Sightings of Healthy Individual Bald Eagles to KDFWR

Bald Eagles are doing well in Kentucky and are regularly observed statewide. There is no need to report sightings of individual Bald Eagles to KDFWR. If you wish to report a Bald Eagle nest on your property, please contact us at Please consult the frequently asked questions below for more information.​

The History of Kentucky’s Bald Eagle Population

Very little pre-settlement information exists for Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) populations in Kentucky. Most historical records are from the far western part of the state, with some observations further east along the Ohio River floodplain. Widespread declines in the mid-1900​s resulted in the Bald Eagle vanishing as a breeding bird in Kentucky during the 1960s.

After the banning of DDT in 1972 (US) and a nationwide re-introduction effort in the 1970s and 1980s, the number of Bald Eagle nesting territories in Kentucky has steadily increased (See Table 1).  Due to the high concentration of suitable habitats, eagle nests are more numerous in western Kentucky.  However, Bald Eagle nests in central and eastern Kentucky are becoming increasingly common.​ Th​e creation of large reservoirs statewide has provided a habitat unavailable to eagles historically. Large rivers, creeks and wetlands provide additional nesting opportunities.​

The Bald Eagle Has Been Delisted!

The B​ald Eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species in August of 2007. However, Bald Eagles still remain protected by the ​Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. To ensure the species continues to succeed, National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines and a Post-delisting Monitoring Plan have been developed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). These documents are available on USFWS's Bald Eagle Guidance pages.​

A view of a bald eagle nest from the helicopter during an annual nesting survey

A view of a bald eagle nest from the helicopter during an annual nesting survey.
Photo by: Ray Stainfield

Table 1. Number of known eagle nesting territories in Kentucky from 1986-2019, documented through statewide surveys.​

Year Eagle Nesting Territories
​ ​

​Eagle Monitoring in Kentucky

​To monitor Kentucky's nesting Bald Eagle population, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) conducted aerial and ground surveys of all known nests, statewide from 1986-2019 (Figure 1). Kentucky's nesting Bald Eagle population has grown rapidly in recent decades. In fact, the number of occupied Bald Eagle territories jumped more than 400% from 43 in 2006, to 187 in 2019. A report summarizing monitoring data during 1986-2019 can be found here.

Eagle County Map

Figure 1. Counties with known Bald Eagle nests during 2000-2023 (gray). Last updated 8-18-2023.​

COVID-19-related restrictions led to a pause in Kentucky's Bald Eagle nest survey in 2020, and monitoring objectives were reevaluated that year.  Bald Eagles have shown a fantastic recovery and monitoring all known nests statewide required significant effort given the growing number of nests.  Considering limitations in staff time and funding, monitoring objectives were revised in 2020 to reduce the amount of time and effort spent monitoring Bald Eagles, while still maintaining a high-quality dataset for the species. Starting in 2021, a rotating regional subset of nests is monitored each year instead of monitoring all nests statewide.  Details can be found in the revised ​Kentucky Bald Eagle Monitoring Plan.

To monitor Kentucky's nesting population, KDFWR conducts regional aerial surveys of eagle nests in March.  The status of each nesting territory is defined as "occupied" or "unoccupied" A territory is deemed "occupied" if it contains a nest that was recently built or maintained by eagles, adult birds are seen at a nest, or there is evidence of reproduction (incubation, eggs or chicks observed) during the breeding season. Results from the regional survey effort are shown in Figure 2. An unusual decline (13%) in nest numbers in western Kentucky was observed in 2023. The decline is attributed mostly to storms which occurred in early 2023, although Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu​ may have also played a role. KDFWR plans to monitor a subset of western Kentucky nests next year despite the regional rotation in hopes to record a rebound in nest numbers.

Eagle Nest Location County Map by Monitoring RegionsFigure 2. Count of occupied Bald Eagle nests recorded in the Kentucky eagle monitoring regions during 2007–2023.
​Since 2021, a rotating region was surveyed each year.​

In Kentucky, Bald Eagles usually lay eggs during January-March but will begin nest building and repair as early as October.  Young usually fledge (leave the nest) April-July.

Eagle populations are currently monitored twice a year.  Each January, KDFWR, in cooperation with federal agencies and local volunteers, conducts Midwinter Eagle Surveys (MES).  In the past, as many as 20 MES routes were surveyed as part of a national effort coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and 150-400 eagles were counted in Kentucky each year (Table 2).  However, the national effort ended after the 2021 survey and going forward KDFWR will continue four MES routes to monitor the state's largest winter eagle populations. 

Check out the Midwinter Eagle Survey database (pre-2021) which includes MES (1961-2021) data that can be found in our Kentucky's Midwinter Eagle Survey: 1961-2021 report.

Table 2. Summary of Kentucky's National Midwinter Eagle Survey Routes, 2010-2020. Values indicate the total number of bald and golden eagles as well as eagles not identified to species that were reported during the Official count period.

National Survey Route 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010
Ballard WMA120NS4443NS584758373330
Barren River Lake15109191913121023514
Bernheim Forest44534533456
Cave Run Lake**034311407310
Green River Lake112299123123363
Lake Cumberland**1619334825252834311325
Land Between the Lakes83609511574881781057637215
Laurel River Lake​9​9​4​6​4​1​5​10​5​7​2
Mississippi River**1302181892921332232
Ohio River: Brandenburg-Louisville25221201201
Ohio River: Carrsville-Henderson6548612115567
Ohio: Covington-Ashland1166132724312
Ohio River: Henderson-Brandenburg**24725555329
Ohio River: Wickliffe-Carrsville231432222018308261417
Reelfoot Lake NWR (KY)**1NS84376053241
Taylorsville Lake4153120737780
Total Eagles on National Routes 210 186 362 338 198 244 379 275 292 191 413
**Route was revised before the 2011 Survey to Avoid double-counting​​


​Eagle Research in Kentucky

Results of Kentucky Bald Eagle research can be found in the reports and papers below:​

During 2010-2016, KDFWR used satellite telemetry to track the movements of several Bald Eagles from western Kentucky. The results from that project can be found below:


Tracking Kentucky’s eagle population takes a tremendous amount of effort and would not be possible without the cooperation of several federal and state agencies, universities, private organizations, volunteers, and landowners. Their continued support is most appreciated.

Bald Eagle FAQs

How common is it to see a Bald Eagle in Kentucky?

Sightings of Bald Eagles in Kentucky are becoming increasingly more common and widespread.  Bald eagles can be seen just about anywhere in Kentucky, especially during the migration and winter season (September-March).  Nonetheless, seeing a Bald Eagle is exciting every time! 

I saw a Bald Eagle!  Who should I report this information to?

Sightings of Bald Eagles in Kentucky are becoming more common and widespread.  Bald eagles can be seen just about anywhere in Kentucky during the migration and winter season (September-March).  Carrion provides a good winter food source for eagles, away from open water.  Sightings of individual eagles (not at a nest) do not need to be reported to KDFWR.

KDFWR tracks the location and productivity of Bald Eagle nests in Kentucky.  New nests are found every year.  If you think you have discovered a new nest, please call us or e-mail us at (1-800-858-1549) to report it. 

I have a Bald Eagle nest on my property.  What should I do?

If you have not yet reported the nest to KDFWR, please call us or e-mail us at (1-800-858-1549) to report it.  (Please be assured that we do not release locations of eagle nests to the public.) 

Having a Bald Eagle nest on your property does not mean you cannot continue to farm, hunt or otherwise use your property.  However, development or logging within 660 ft of the nest tree may require special coordination and the nest tree should not be cut down.  Feel free to contact us if you are a property owner with an eagle nest and have concerns about planning potentially disturbing activities near the nest.

How can I avoid disturbing Bald Eagles?

When watching eagles for enjoyment, please maintain a distance to avoid disrupting the birds' normal behavior.  A distance of 330 ft is recommended for avoiding disturbance to nesting Bald Eagles by human foot traffic.

The National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines are available to guide developers and landowners in avoiding disturbance to Bald Eagles.  This document can be found via the USFWS National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines.

Where are the best places to go to see a Bald Eagle in Kentucky?

The best time to go eagle-watching in Kentucky is the winter when eagles gather in large numbers in areas with open water to fish. You're likely to spot an eagle on a boat trip or hiking trip to any large reservoir or river in December-March. Look for them perched in trees on the lake or river edge, or watch for them soaring above the water.​ The Land Between the Lakes Area is a winter hot spot for eagles. Kentucky State Parks, in cooperation with KDFWR and the US Army Corps of Engineers, hold Eagle Watch events at several state parks in western KY each January and February. These trips are a great way to view many eagles. More information on eagle watch weekends can be found at the Kentucky State Parks website with their Wildlife Adventures program.

We often get requests from wildlife watchers and photographers for eagle nest locations.  We do not release locations of eagle nests to the public.  This is for the privacy of the birds and the landowners that support them.

I think I saw a Bald Eagle.  Where can I find more information on eagle identification?

Please scroll down for more information on eagle identification (on this page).

Further information on Bald Eagle identification can be found at the following links.

Where can I find more information on Bald Eagles?

Information on life history (diet, lifespan, etc.) can be found at the USFWS Eagle Management Program website​.

Do golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) occur in Kentucky?

Though uncommon in comparison to the Bald Eagle, golden eagles do migrate through and winter in Kentucky.  There are no confirmed records of golden eagles nesting in Kentucky.  The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources participates in the Golden Eagle Working Group and conducted a Golden Eagle Camera Trapping Project during 2012-2017 to document this species winter distribution in KY.  More information can be found below:

I found a dead eagle. What should I do?

Please leave the bird where it is, take a picture, record a precise location and call us or e-mail us at (1-800-858-1549) to report it.

Bald Eagle Identification

It takes a bald eagle 5 years to obtain its adult plumage (white head and tail, brown body).

Juvenile bald eagles have brown bodies and dark bills.

Juvenile bald eagle in a nest
Photo by:  KDFWR Staff

In the first five years of life, the immature bald eagle will go through a series of brown and white mottled plumages.

Immature bald eagle
Photo by:  David Roemer
 Adult bald eagles exhibit distinctive white heads and tails and dark brown bodies.  They have a yellow bill and yellow legs. 

Adult bald eagle
Photo by:  Tom Fusco
Several other species of birds can be mistaken for bald eagles. Some of the more commonly confused species are osprey, turkey vultures, black vultures and red-tailed hawks. See below for pictures of these species.

Since osprey also eat fish, they are often mistaken for young bald eagles.
However, they can be distinguished by their brown tails, white bodies and dark eyeline.
Photo by:  David Roemer

Turkey vulture
Turkey vultures are very common in Kentucky.
They can be recognized by their featherless, pink head and paler wing feathers.
Photo by:  Kathy Dennis

Black vulture
Notice the featherless, black head
and paler outer wing feathers.
Photo by:  Kathy Dennis 

Immature red-tailed hawk
Red-tailed hawks are common throughout Kentucky.
Immature red-tailed hawks are sometimes confused with young bald eagles
because their tail is brown.
Photo by:  Rachel Jenkins

More information on bald eagle identification can be found at the following links: