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Eagle is a common name for some members of the bird family Accipitridae; it belongs to several genera that are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than sixty species of eagles occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just eleven species can be found – two species (the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle) in the United States and Canada, nine species in Central America and South America, and three species in Australia.


Eagles are large, powerfully built birds of prey, with a heavy head and beak. Even the smallest eagles, like the Booted Eagle (Aquila pennata) (which is comparable in size to a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) or Red-tailed Hawk (B. jamaicensis)), have relatively longer and more evenly broad wings, and more direct, faster flight – despite the reduced size of aerodynamic feathers. Most eagles are larger than any other raptors apart from some vultures. The smallest species called eagle is the South Nicobar Serpent Eagle (Spilornis klossi), at 450 g (1 lb) and 40 cm (16 in). The largest species are discussed below. Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong muscular legs, and powerful talons. The beak is typically heavier than most other birds of prey. Eagles' eyes are extremely powerful, having up to 3.6 times human acuity for the martial eagle, which enables them to spot potential prey from a very long distance. This keen eyesight is primarily contributed by their extremely large pupils which ensure minimal diffraction (scattering) of the incoming light. The female of all species of eagle known is larger than the male.

Eagles normally build their nests, called eyries, in tall trees or on high cliffs. Many species lay two eggs, but the older, larger chick frequently kills its younger sibling once it has hatched. The dominant chick tends to be the female, as they are bigger than the male. The parents take no action to stop the killing.

Due to the size and power of many eagle species, they are ranked at the top of the food chain as apex predators amongst the avian world. The type of prey varies from genus to genus. The Haliaeetus and Ichthyophaga eagles prefer to capture fish, though the species in the former often capture various animals, especially other water birds, and are powerful kleptoparasites of other birds. The snake and serpent eagles of the genera Circaetus, Terathopius and Spilornis predominantly prey on the great diversity of snakes that are found in the tropics of Africa and Asia. The eagles of the genus Aquila are often the top birds of prey in open habitats, taking almost any medium-sized vertebrate they can catch. Where Aquila eagles are absent, other eagles, such as the buteonine Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle of South America, may assume the position of top raptorial predator in open areas. Many other eagles, including the species-rich Spizaetus genus, live predominantly in woodlands and forest. These eagles often target various arboreal or ground-dwelling mammals and birds, which are often unsuspectingly ambushed in such dense, knotty environments. Hunting techniques differ among the species and genera, with some individual eagles having engaged in quite varied techniques based their environment and prey at any given time. Most eagles grab prey without landing and take flight with it so the prey can be carried to a perch and torn apart. The Bald Eagle is noted for having flown with the heaviest load verified to be carried by any flying bird, since one eagle flew with a 6.8 kg (15 lb) mule deer fawn. However, a few eagles may target prey considerably heavier than themselves; such prey is too heavy to fly with and thus it is either eaten at the site of the kill or taken in pieces back to a perch or nest. Golden and Crowned Eagles have killed ungulates weighing up to 30 kg (66 lb) and a Martial Eagle even killed a 37 kg (82 lb) duiker, 7–8 times heavier than the predating eagle. Authors on birds David Allen Sibley, Pete Dunne and Clay Sutton, described the behaviorial difference between hunting eagles and other birds of prey thus (in this case the Bald and Golden Eagles as compared to other North American raptors):

They have at least one singular characteristic. It has been observed that most birds of prey look back over their shoulders before striking prey (or shortly thereafter); predation is after all a two-edged sword. All hawks seem to have this habit, from the smallest kestrel to the largest Ferruginous – but not the Eagles.

Among the eagles are some of the largest birds of prey: only the condors and some of the Old World vultures are markedly larger. It is regularly debated which should be considered the largest species of eagle. They could be measured variously in total length, body mass or wingspan. Different lifestyle needs among various eagles result in variable measurements from species to species. For example, many forest-dwelling eagles, including the very large Harpy and Philippine Eagles, have relatively short wingspans, a feature necessary for being able to maneuver in quick, short bursts through dense forested habitats. On the other hand, eagles in the genus Aquila are found almost strictly in open country, are superlative soarers, and have relatively long wings for their size.

Here are lists of the top five eagles going on weight, length and, lastly, wingspan. Unless otherwise noted via reference, the figures listed are the median reported for each measurement in the guide Raptors of the World (Ferguson-Lees, et al.), in which only measurements that could be personally verified by the authors were listed.

Rank Common Name Scientific Name Body Mass
1 Steller's Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus 6.7 kilograms (15 lb)
2 Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi 6.35 kg (14.0 lb)
3 Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja 5.95 kg (13.1 lb)
4 White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla 4.8 kg (11 lb)
5 Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus 4.6 kg (10 lb)
Rank Common Name Scientific Name Total Length
1 Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi 100 cm (3 ft 3 in)
2 Harpy Eagle Harpia harpyja 95.5 cm (3 ft 2 in)
3 Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax 95.5 cm (3 ft 2 in)
4 Steller's Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus 95 cm (3 ft 1 in)
5 Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus 87.5 cm (2 ft 10 in)
Rank Common Name Scientific Name Median Wingspan
1 White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla 218.5 cm (7 ft 2 in)
2 Steller's Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus 212.5 cm (7 ft 0 in)
3 Wedge-tailed Eagle Aquila audax 210 cm (6 ft 11 in)
4 Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos 207 cm (6 ft 9 in)
5 Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus 206.5 cm (6 ft 9 in)


Martial Eagle in Namibia
Philippine Eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi in Southern Philippines
Wedge Tailed Eagle in Australia

Major new research into eagle taxonomy suggests that the important genera Aquila and Hieraaetus are not composed of nearest relatives, and it is likely that a reclassification of these genera will soon take place, with some species being moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus.

  • Bonelli's Eagle, and the Booted Eagle have been moved from Hieraaetus to Aquila.
  • Either the Greater Spotted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle should move from Aquila to join the Long-crested Eagle in Lophaetus, or, perhaps better, all three of these species should move to Ictinaetus with the Black Eagle.
  • The Steppe Eagle and Tawny Eagle, once thought to be conspecific, are not even each other's nearest relatives.


  • Subfamily Buteoninae – hawks (buzzards), true eagles and seaeagles
    • Genus Geranoaetus
      • Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Geranoaetus melanoleucus
    • Genus Harpyhaliaetus
      • Crowned Solitary Eagle, Harpyhaliaetus coronatus
      • Montane Solitary Eagle, H. solitarius
    • Genus Morphnus
      • Crested Eagle, Morphnus guianensis
    • Genus Harpia
      • Harpy Eagle, Harpia harpyja
    • Genus Pithecophaga
      • Philippine Eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi
    • Genus Harpyopsis
      • Papuan Eagle, Harpyopsis novaeguineae
    • Genus Oroaetus
      • Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Oroaetus isidori
    • Genus Spizaetus
      • Crested Hawk-Eagle, Spizaetus cirrhatus
      • Mountain Hawk-Eagle, S. nipalensis
      • Blyth's Hawk-Eagle, S. alboniger
      • Javan Hawk-Eagle, S. bartelsi
      • Sulawesi Hawk-Eagle, S. lanceolatus
      • Philippine Hawk-Eagle, S. philippensis
      • Wallace's Hawk-Eagle, S. nanus
      • Black Hawk-Eagle, S. tyrannus
      • Ornate Hawk-Eagle, S. ornatus
      • Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, S. melanoleucus
    • Genus Lophaetus
      • Long-crested Eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis – possibly belongs in Ictinaetus
    • Genus Stephanoaetus
      • Crowned Eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus
    • Genus Polemaetus
      • Martial Eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus
    • Genus Hieraaetus
      • Ayres' Hawk-eagle, Hieraaetus ayresii
      • African Hawk-Eagle, H. spilogaster
      • Little Eagle, H. morphnoides
        • Pygmy Eagle, H. m. weiskei
    • Genus Harpagornis (extinct)
      • Haast's Eagle, †Harpagornis moorei – possibly belongs in either Hieraaetus or Aquila
    • Genus Lophotriorchis
      • Rufous-bellied Hawk-Eagle, L. kienerii
        A Steppe Eagle in Lahore Zoo, Pakistan
    • Genus Aquila
      • Bonelli's Eagle, Aquila fasciata – formerly in Hieraaetus fasciatus
      • Cassin's Hawk-Eagle, A. africana – formerly in Hieraaetus or Spizaetus genera
      • Booted Eagle, A. pennata – formerly Hieraaetus pennatus
      • Golden Eagle, A. chrysaetos
      • Eastern Imperial Eagle, A. heliaca
      • Spanish Imperial Eagle A. adalberti
      • Steppe Eagle, A. nipalensis
      • Tawny Eagle, A. rapax
      • Greater Spotted Eagle, A. clanga – to be moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus
      • Lesser Spotted Eagle, A. pomarina – to be moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus
      • Indian Spotted Eagle, A. hastata – to be moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus
      • Verreaux's Eagle, A. verreauxii
      • Gurney's Eagle, A. gurneyi
      • Wahlberg's Eagle, A. wahlbergi
      • Wedge-tailed Eagle, A. audax
    • Genus Ictinaetus
      • Black Eagle, Ictinaetus malayensis
    • Genus Haliaeetus
      • White-tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla
      • Bald Eagle, H. leucocephalus
      • Steller's Sea Eagle, H. pelagicus
      • African Fish Eagle, H. vocifer
      • White-bellied Sea Eagle, H. leucogaster
      • Sanford's Sea Eagle, H. sanfordi
      • Madagascar Fish Eagle, H. vociferoides
      • Pallas' Sea Eagle, H. leucoryphus
    • Genus Ichthyophaga
      • Lesser Fish Eagle, Ichthyophaga humilis
      • Grey-headed Fish Eagle, I. ichthyaetus
Short-toed Snake Eagle in flight
  • Subfamily Circaetinae: snake-eagles
    • Genus Terathopius
      • Bateleur, Terathopius ecaudatus
    • Genus Circaetus
      • Short-toed Snake Eagle, Circaetus gallicus
      • Black-chested Snake Eagle, C. pectoralis
      • Brown Snake Eagle, C. cinereus
      • Fasciated Snake Eagle, C. fasciolatus
      • Western Banded Snake Eagle, C. cinerascens
    • Genus Spilornis
      • Crested Serpent Eagle, Spilornis cheela
        • Central Nicobar Serpent Eagle, S. minimus (subspecies or species)
      • Great Nicobar Serpent Eagle, S. klossi
      • Mountain Serpent Eagle, S. kinabaluensis
      • Sulawesi Serpent Eagle, S. rufipectus
      • Philippine Serpent Eagle, S. holospilus
      • Andaman Serpent Eagle, S. elgini
    • Genus Eutriorchis
      • Madagascar Serpent Eagle, Eutriorchis astur

Eagles in culture


The modern English term for the bird is derived from Latin: aquila by way of French: aigle. The origin of aquila is unknown, but it is believed to possibly derive from either aquilus (meaning dark-colored, swarthy, or blackish) as a reference to the plumage of eagles or from aquilo (meaning north wind).

Old English used the term earn, related to Scandinavia's ørn / örn. It is similar to other Indo-European terms for "bird" or "eagle", including Greek: ὄρνις (ornís), Russian: орёл (orël), and Welsh: eryr. The Albanian word for eagle is shqiponjë, deriving from the root shqipe.

In Britain before 1678, eagle referred specifically to the Golden Eagle, with the other native species, the White-tailed Eagle, being known as erne. The modern name "Golden Eagle" for aquila chrysaetos was introduced by naturalist John Ray.


Garuda, the Vahana of Lord Vishnu, depicted with an eagle's beak and wings

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshiped the animal and often depicted eagles in their art.

Despite modern and historic Native American practices of giving eagle feathers to non-indigenous people and also members of other tribes who have been deemed worthy, current United States eagle feather law stipulates that only individuals of certifiable Native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious or spiritual reasons. In Canada, poaching of eagle feathers for the booming U.S. market has sometimes resulted in the arrests of First Nations person for the crime.

In Hindu religion, Garuda is a lesser Hindu divinity, usually the mount ( vahanam) of Vishnu. Garuda is depicted as having the golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings, and an eagle's beak and with a crown on his head. This ancient deity was said to be massive, large enough to block out the sun.

The eagle is also the patron animal of Zeus. In particular, Zeus was said to have taken the form of an eagle in order to abduct Ganymede, and there are numerous artistic depictions of the Eagle Zeus bearing Ganymede aloft, from Classical times up to the present (see illustrations in the Ganymede (mythology) page.)

The Eagle is also the symbol of Libby, Montana which was recently named "The City of Eagles"

As national symbols

The coat of arms of Mexico – a golden eagle perched upon a cactus eating a snake
The coat of arms of Austria – a black eagle holding a hammer and a sickle, with a broken chain between its legs

Eagles have been used by many nations as a national symbol.

  • The coat of arms of Albania has a black double-headed eagle. Furthermore the eagle gives Albania its name ( in Albanian Shqiperia meaning Land of the eagles) and Albanians call themselves shqipetar or shqipe meaning eagles.
  • The coat of arms of Armenia has a gold eagle and lion.
  • The coat of arms of Austria has a black eagle.
  • The coat of arms of the Czech Republic integrates the symbols of Moravia and Silesia (both with female eagles in their emblems – red-and-white chequered and black respectively) on the coat of arms of the Czech Republic with Bohemia's lion.
  • The coat of arms of Egypt is a golden eagle looking towards the viewer's left. It is taking from the golden Eagle of Saladin founded on Saladin Citadel of Cairo.
  • The coat of arms of Germany has a black eagle.
  • The coat of arms of Ghana has two golden eagles holding it.
  • The coat of arms of Iceland has an eagle holding it, as well as a dragon, a bull and a giant.
  • The coat of arms of Indonesia has an eagle-like garuda carrying a shield on its neck and a banner on its feet.
  • The coat of arms of Iraq has the golden Eagle of Saladin.
  • The coat of arms of Mexico has a golden eagle perched upon a cactus devouring a snake.
  • The coat of arms of Moldova consists of a stylized eagle holding a cross in its beak and a sceptre and a branch in its claws.
  • The coat of arms of Montenegro represents the two-headed eagle in flight.
  • The coat of arms of Navarre/Basque Country Kingdom has a black eagle.
  • The coat of arms of Nigeria has a red eagle on top.
  • The coat of arms of Panama has a harpy eagle.
  • The coat of arms of the Philippines has the bald eagle of the United States as a symbol of its colonial past, but the Monkey-eating Eagle is the de jure National Bird of the country.
  • The coat of arms of Poland has a white eagle with a golden beak and talons wearing a golden crown.
  • The coat of arms of Romania has a golden aquila holding a cross in its beak and a mace and a sword in its claws.
  • The coat of arms of Russia has a gold double-headed eagle.
  • The coat of arms of Serbia has a white bicephalic eagle of the House of Nemanjić.
  • The coat of arms of Syria formerly had the eagle of Saladin.
  • The Great Seal of the United States has a bald eagle.
  • The coat of arms of Yemen depicts a golden eagle with a scroll between its claws.
  • The coat of arms of Zambia has an orange red eagle on top.
  • The coat of arms of Ghana has two eagles.
  • The Polish and the Serbian eagles are distinguished by their white colour.

Historic uses:

  • The Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt used it as their seal.
  • Napoleon I used the Roman Golden Eagle as the symbol of his new French empire.
  • Persian Empire: the symbol of Persian Army was an Eagle.
  • The Romans used it on the standards of their armies. From this derives:
    • The late Byzantine Empire chose a two-headed golden eagle as its symbol. It is popularly that one head symbolised ancient Rome, and the other head symbolized "new Rome" at Constantinople. From this derives:
      • The two-headed eagle is the emblem of "Shqipëria" or Land of the Eagles, which is known in English as Albania (see The Tale of the Eagle for the legendary origin of the name).
      • After the fall of Constantinople, the Russian Empire took the two-headed eagle as its own symbol.
    • After his crowning as the new Roman Emperor, Charlemagne adopted the ancient Roman eagle as his own symbol. The Holy Roman Empire born of his kingdom took the eagle, but the Habsburgs replaced the golden eagle by an imperial eagle. From this derives:
      • The Austrian Empire had a two-headed eagle as its symbol. After the abolition of Austria-Hungary, Austria took as its symbol a one-headed eagle in the modern coat of arms of Austria.
      • Prussia, and later Germany have used a black eagle as their national symbol.
      • The Spanish Catholic monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, used the eagle as a part of the royal shield representing Saint John the Evangelist. The eagle was again on the Spanish shield under the Francoist regime and the transition to Democracy (1939–1981).
  • The Seljuk Turks and Ottoman Turks used a double-headed eagle as coats-of-arms.
  • During the 1930s and 1940s Hitler's Nazi Germany used a black eagle with its wings outstretched and clutching a swastika as its insignia.
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