The Eagle is one of the biggest and certainly the most majestic of all living birds. The animal has come to be admired all over the world as a living symbol of power, freedom, and transcendence. Here are 20 interesting facts the Eagle.
A) Eagle Facts – General
1. There are over sixty species of eagles, Accipitridae, most of which are found in Eurasia and Africa. Of the 14 that are found elsewhere, Central/South America has nine, North America just two (the Golden and Bald eagles) and Australia three.
2. The modern word ‘eagle’ was derived by corrupting an original word twice –from the Latin word Aquila (possibly from aquilus, meaning dark-coloured, or aquilo, meaning north wind) through the French Aigle, which doesn’t have a direct meaning – apart from ‘eagle’ in French!
3. The Bald Eagle – Beloved of North Americans everywhere, declined rapidly as more and more people ‘invaded’ its home since the 18th century. By 1967 it was put on the endangered list with only 500 or so pairs thought to exist. However, once protected it picked up again very quickly. It was moved to just ‘threatened’ after 28 years and in 2007, just forty years from the original listing; it was removed from the endangered list entirely. However, it is still protected, along with its Golden cousin.
B) Eagle Facts – Size
4. Eagle is one of the largest and most powerful birds of prey – making it an apex predator in the bird world. Even the smallest ones fly faster, more directly and with larger wings than comparably sized birds of other families.
Depending on what you measure by (weight, length or wingspan), the biggest birds are the White-tailed Eagle with a 7ft 2in (218.5cm) wingspan, the Philippine Eagle which is 3ft 3in (100cm) long and the Stellar’s Sea Eagle, weighing in at 15lb (6.7kg). However, if you take lists of the top five for each of these measurements, only one bird appears on all three lists – the Stellar’s Sea Eagle, which has the second largest wingspan at 7ft (212.5cm) and is the fourth longest at 3ft 1in (95cm), as well as the heaviest.
5. The South (or Great) Nicobar Serpent Eagle is the smallest eagle at just 1lb (450g) in weight and 16in (40cm) in length, but it still has no trouble out-flying other birds of similar size! It’s considered ‘near threatened’ by the conservation people as its habitat is slowly disappearing.
6. Eagles hold the record for the largest load known to have been carried by a flying bird – It was by a Bald Eagle, which flew with a 15lb (6.8kg) mule deer fawn. Which is not to say they won’t try to catch larger prey – just that when they do they’ve got more sense than to try to fly with it! Even the big eagles won’t usually fly with more than 4 or 5lbs, though.
7. The largest known kill by an eagle was a duiker deer weighing 82lb (37kg) – which was 7-8 times the weight of the Martial Eagle that killed it!
C) Eagle Facts – Appearance
8. The Bald Eagle, named for its white head on an otherwise brown body, is not actually bald – it merely has white feathers there. The description ‘bald’ was applied at a time when it was a common way to describe a white face or head on animals.
9. Male and female eagles of the same species don’t differ much in appearance, but they are unusual in that the females are the larger, by about a quarter as much again.
D) Eagle Facts – Behaviour
10. In line with their proud and arrogant bearing, eagles obviously have confidence levels to match, because all other birds of prey have the habit of glancing over their shoulder every so often and before diving on prey, just in case another predator is behind them and thinking of making them into lunch – but not eagles. Presumably nothing is daft enough to consider the idea of having eagle for dinner!
11. Eagles do not necessarily migrate – They can stay in the place they were born for their whole lives, but will move if food levels and temperatures become too inhospitable in winter. When they do, they do it in a very leisurely manner, usually hunting in the morning each day and flying onward in the afternoon, when things have warmed up and they can simply ride the warmer wind currents, gliding along with very little effort. On arrival they rest up for the winter before returning when warmer weather arrives.
12. Prey varies between eagle species – Fish eagles catch a lot of fish and water birds. Birds of open habitats catch almost any medium-sized vertebrate they can find, and you won’t need three guesses as to what the Snake and Serpent Eagles prefer to catch… Some species even target ground or tree-dwelling birds and mammals in woodlands and forests, which must entail some very precise and clever flying!
E) Eagle Facts – Breeding
13. Eagles are creatures of habit and will return to the same nest every year, repairing and adding to it each time. Because of this the nests tend to become absolutely enormous – up to eight feet wide, fifteen feet tall and weighing around two tons, in the case of one bald eagle nest!
14. Eagles lay between one and three plain white goose-egg-sized eggs in early spring. The female will do most of the incubating for the 35 days or so they take to hatch, although the male will do his share by bringing food to his mate the rest of the time.
15. Eagle parents are very protective of their chicks and one or other will be on or very near the nest almost all the time at first. Eaglets grow phenomenally fast and will weigh around 8 or 9 pounds at six weeks old.
16. Being born an eagle does not give the easiest start in life – The first hatching chick in the nest will get a slight head start on its siblings, and with this small advantage of size, it will attack and victimize the smaller chicks, taking most of the food and often resulting in it becoming an ‘only child’ after while. The surprising thing is that the adults allow this ‘survival of the fittest’ to happen without interfering.
17. Having survived long enough to fledge and leave the nest, the youngsters still have their work cut out for them. They are not born with the skills and knowledge of the adults, and the problems involved in gaining both, especially in times of bad weather or low food availability, mean that only around half of eagle chicks that leave the nest reach their first birthday!
F) Eagle Facts – Eagles and Us
18. Eagles sometimes turn up in religions. The Hindus have a lesser divinity called Garuda (often ridden by Vishnu), who has the body of a strong man wearing a crown and an eagle’s beak and wings, and the ancient Peruvian people of Moche worshiped them, according to the depictions in their art. It is also Zeus’ patron animal in Greek Classical Myths, and a form he has been known to adopt.
19. In North America, the Native Americans use eagle feathers in their spiritual and religious lives. Although it is now illegal even to possess these unless the person who has them is of provable Native American ancestry and part of a federally recognised tribe! In Canada the booming US market for eagle feathers means there is a lot of poaching – and it has resulted in people being arrested for it.
20. No less than 25 countries currently have eagles depicted in their coats of arms. From Albania and Austria to the Yemen and Zambia, and around another ten instances are known in history. The eagle also appears on the US Great Seal, of course, and it is the national bird of Germany, Austria, Mexico and Kazakhstan.
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