When Does a Bald Eagle’s Head Turn White?

You may be familiar with the bald eagle because it’s the country’s national emblem but could you answer “When does a bald eagle’s head turn white”? Keep reading, and we’ll cover all of the factors. 

When Does Bald Eagle Head Turn White

The bald eagle (scientific name Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is a rare species of eagle and has been in danger of extinction. Being common in the 1700s and unique to North America, it was tagged as the national emblem of the United States. 

Adult bald eagles are known for their white heads and tails, along with their brownish-black body and yellow bill, eyes, and feet. These birds are born with grayish-brown plumage that sheds for the first five years and develops into white heads as they reach maturity. During this time, a bald eagle will also start to breed. So, the most stark transition is at 5 years. The white crown also serves as a bald eagle’s camouflage while hunting from the sky.

What Does a Bald Eagle Look Like Before Its Head Turns White?

Young bald eagles have brown plumage with scattered molted white feathers. The white plumage becomes more defined as young eagles go through feather shedding for the first four years of their lives.

Do female bald eagles have white heads?

Yes, all adult male and female bald eagles have identical plumage.

Bald Eagle Plumage Stages

As we mentioned earlier, young eagles undergo four molting stages before their heads turn completely white. Their transformation not only involves their plumage’s color but also their thickness and pattern. Let’s take a look into what these stages are

1. First Year – Juvenile Stage

The juvenile stage happens within an eaglet’s first month of life. It has four sub-stages – natal, thermal, transitional, and juvenile.

Natal or Primary Down

A baby eagle is born with fluffy light grey feathers and white heads and necks. This set of feathers can’t provide much warmth and sheds after 10 days. 

Thermal or Secondary Down

This sub-stage has a thicker set of smokey grey feathers. They also provide better insulation than the previous stage and last for two weeks.


During this stage, a baby eagle’s plumage changes from dark brown to black. These feathers sprout in canals from an eaglet’s back, head, and wings. These are called blood feathers and will turn into fledgling feathers later on.


The juvenile stage occurs once an eaglet turns ten months old. During this time, an eaglet’s body is covered with brown flight and contour feathers. Some hints of white can also be seen. Their fledge plumage has grown fully since eaglets are almost ready for fledging during this stage. This plumage will last until an eaglet turns one year old.

2. Second and Third Year – Basic Stage I & II

Most people mistake bald eagles for golden ones during their second and third years because they won’t have many differences.

Molting becomes more visible once a bald eagle turns two, particularly on the belly area. While its head remains fully brown, its chest and wings will have scattered brown and olive shades.

The white plumage spreads from the belly to the chest before an eagle turns three years old. Its crown and mouth will also begin to change into a light smoky shade. And its throat will be covered with grey and white feathers.

3. Basic Stage III

A bald eagle’s plumage during its fourth year will most likely be how it will look like for the rest of its lifetime. During this stage, its head (except its eye area which will remain brown) and neck will change into cream white with brown speckles. 

While all the other areas including the tail, turns white, a bald eagle’s belly will change from white to chocolate brown.

4. Definitive Stage

A bald eagle achieves its definitive plumage during this final stage, which occurs right before it turns five years old. Its body will be brown while its crown and neck will become cotton-white. By this time, their beak, eyes, and feet have also achieved their definitive color. 

What Color Are Baby Eagles?

Baby eagles are born with white heads and necks, while the rest of the body is light gray. 

When Do Bald Eagles Get Their White Feathers?

Bald eagles get their definitive white feathers once they reach five years old. 


Why are bald eagles’ heads white?

Bald eagles’ heads are white because it serves as their camouflage while hunting from the sky. 

Do all eagles have white heads?

No, not all eagles have white heads. Golden eagles have brown heads with gold streaks. 

How long do bald eagles have brown heads?

Bald eagles have brown heads for the first four years of their lives. 

How can you tell if a bald eagle is a juvenile?

A juvenile bald eagle is mostly brown in color with white molted feathers that are scattered all over its body. 

Into hunting? Our articles about bow hunting and hunting tree stands are great reads!

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