Bald eagles and cottonwood trees: a dynamic duo


The Majestic Bald Eagle

Cottonwood trees are essential to the preservation of the mighty BTGblog_BaldEaglebald eagle along the Missouri River. Bald eagles come to the Missouri River to nest, to rest during migration and to roost over the winter. Eagles prefer to nest, rest and roost in cottonwood trees because they are sturdy enough to support large nests and are located in areas with plentiful food sources. To survive and reproduce, cottonwood trees require certain levels of soil moisture and nutrients, which historically were provided regularly by the Missouri River’s floods. The symbol of our country and the only sea eagle native to North America, bald eagles live along the entire length of the Missouri River. They have wingspans between six and seven feet and have been known to live up to 28 years. Bald eagles infrequently change mates and will return to the same nest year after year.

A Threatened Home

Flood-control operations, river-system maintenance and bank-stabilization programs along the Missouri River have protected homes, farms and businesses but have also resulted in irregular flooding. The lack of spring flooding across the floodplain has resulted in a decrease in cottonwood
regeneration along the river. As a result, the cottonwood forests are being replaced by species such as elm and ash trees, which BTGblog_BaldEagle01are not suitable bald eagle nesting or roosting sites. Development of the river floodplain for housing and agriculture has further impacted cottonwood populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initially listed the bald eagle as an endangered species in 1967 after habitat loss, hunting and ingestion of poisons such as DDT and mercury caused decreases in species population. Coordinated recovery efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and many other agencies and organizations increased the population of the bald eagle. The species was reclassified as threatened in 1995 and removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007. However, the bald eagle is still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Information provided by the Missouri River Recovery Program | U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

For more information on the Missouri River Recovery Program, please visit