Introduction to Eagle

Eagle, a bird of prey belonging to the hawk family. Eagles have hooked beaks, curved claws (called talons), exceptionally keen eyesight, powerful wings, strong bodies, and feathered legs. In mythology the eagle has symbolized the sun. The bird has been used as a symbol of power, courage, and majesty. The Romans believed the eagle to be Jupiter's favorite bird, and it became the emblem of the Roman Empire. American Indians used the eagle as a symbol of the thunderbird, a mythical bird they thought caused thunder and lightning.

The eagleThe eagle is a symbol of power, courage, and majesty.

The eagle is the national emblem of the United States and was used as a symbol by czarist Russia. It appears on either the flag or the coat of arms of Albania, Austria, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Poland, and Spain; and on the flag and seal of Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Utah.

There are two main groups of eagles: (1) land eagles, which have leg feathers that extend downward to the toes; and (2) sea eagles, or ernes, which have leg feathers extending only halfway to the toes. The most familiar North American eagles are the golden eagle, a land eagle; and the bald eagle, a sea eagle.

Land Eagles

The Golden Eagle is native to Europe, Asia, and North America. The American golden eagle is found in deciduous forests from Alaska to central Mexico and from New England to the southern Appalachians. It is named for the golden markings on the nape of the neck. The body and legs are dark brown. The golden eagle is 30 to 41 inches (76 to 104 cm) long and has a wingspan of 76 to 92 inches (1.9 to 2.3 m). The female is usually smaller than the male.

The golden eagleThe golden eagle spreads its talons to grasp prey.

Like other species of eagles, the golden eagle builds a large nest of sticks in a tall tree or on a rocky ledge. The nest is about five feet (1.5 m) high and seven feet (2 m) across. The same nest is often reused each year although it is usually repaired and enlarged. The female lays two or three whitish eggs with brown blotches. The young hatch in about four weeks. The eaglets are fed by both parents and remain in the nest until they are able to fly, about 9 to 12 weeks later.

Other Land Eagles

The harpy eagle, found in lowland forests from southern Mexico to Argentina, is blackish-gray with a divided black crest resembling a pair of horns. Its talons, more powerful than those of any other bird of prey, are used to capture birds and sloths, its main sources of food. The monkey-eating eagleof the Philippines is grayish-brown with stiff buff-colored feathers that stand up on the crown and nape of the neck. It lives in dense forests and feeds on monkeys, birds, and squirrels. Along with the harpy eagle, it is an endangered species. The crowned eagleof Ethiopia is bluish-black. Its double crest of white feathers is highly prized in Africa for use in ceremonial headdresses. The crowned eagle feeds on small antelopes and birds.

The wedge-tailed eagleThe wedge-tailed eagle is the largest bird of prey in Australia.
Who Is a “Flying Monster”?

Harpy eagles are named after the “flying monsters” that appear in the myths of ancient Greece and Rome. There are eagles in the myths of many different groups of people, including the Native Americans. Perhaps this is because eagles are among the largest and most powerful birds of prey.

Harpy eagles of the South American rain forests are some of the biggest and strongest eagles in the world. Harpy eagles weigh more than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms). When they spread their wings, their wingspan measures 7 feet (2 meters). Harpy eagles can kill animals as heavy as sloths or monkeys.

Sea Eagles

The Bald Eagle

or American Eagle, is the national bird of the United States. The bald eagle is so named because its whitefeathered head appears bald when seen from a distance. It has a brown body, white tail, and thick yellow bill. The bald eagle is found throughout North America, from Alaska to Mexico. In the United States it is protected by federal law.

The bald eagleThe bald eagle is the national bird of the United States.

Bald eagles are about 30 to 43 inches (76 to 109 cm) long with a wingspan of 78 to 96 inches (2 to 2.4 m). Females are usually larger than males. Bald eagles are found near lakes, rivers, marshes, and seacoasts. They feed on fish, small mammals, birds, and carrion. They have exceptional vision and are believed to see small objects at a distance of up to three miles (5 km).

The nest of the bald eagle is similar to that of the golden eagle, but it is usually located in a tree near water. The female lays two or three white eggs. The eaglets are light brown for about seven years, then acquire their adult plumage.

Which Eagle Is a Pirate?

Bald eagles are well known for pirating, or stealing, fish from other fishing birds. Two biologists once saw an eagle attack an osprey that was carrying a fish high in the air. The eagle fought until the osprey dropped the fish. Then the eagle dived and caught the falling fish before it hit the water.

Bald eagles also eat water birds, such as coots and herons. Sometimes they eat carrion. Bald eagles are even big and strong enough to kill and eat geese and jackrabbits.

Eagles build big, stick nests called aeries (AIR eez) in tall treetops or on cliffs. Eagles often use the same aerie year after year, adding new sticks each year. Young bald eagles have dark feathers all over. They don’t get their white head feathers until they are 6 or 7 years old. By then, they are skilled hunters and are old enough to breed.

Other Sea Eagles

Steller's sea eagleis found in arctic regions. It is black and white with a long, wedge-shaped tail and a long, narrow bill. The white-tailed sea eagle, or gray sea eagle, is found in Iceland and Greenland and from Norway to Siberia and Japan. It is similar in size and color to the bald eagle but has a light brown head and gray patches on the wings. It is an endangered species.

Steller's sea eagleSteller's sea eagle is one of the largest and most powerful raptors.

Eagles belong to the hawk family, Accipitridae. The golden eagle is Aquila chrysaetos; harpy eagle, Harpia harpyja; monkey-eating eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi; crowned eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus. The bald eagle is Haliaeetus leucocephalus; Steller's sea eagle, H. pelagicus; white-tailed sea eagle, H. albicilla.