eagle, common name for large predatory birds of the family Falconidae (hawk family), found in all parts of the world. Eagles are similar to the buteos, or buzzard hawks, but are larger both in length and in wingspread (up to 71/2 ft/228 cm) and have beaks nearly as long as their heads. They are solitary birds, said to mate for life. The nest, or aerie, of twigs and sticks is built at a vantage point high in a tree or on a cliff in a permanent feeding territory and is added to year after year, the refuse of the previous nests decomposing beneath the new additions. Nests can become enormous, measuring up to ten feet across and weighing well over 1,000 pounds. The eaglets (usually two) do not develop adult markings until their third year, when they leave parental protection and seek their own mates and territories.

The American bald (in the sense of white, as in piebald), or white-headed, eagle (Haliaetus leucocephalus) is found in all parts of North America near water and feeds chiefly on dead fish (sometimes robbing the osprey's catch) and rodents. It is dark brown with white head, neck, and tail plumage. The northern species (found chiefly in Canada) is slightly larger than the southern, which ranges throughout the United States. With only 417 known breeding pairs in the 48 contiguous states in 1963, the bald eagle population was dwindling alarmingly; a decade later they were placed on the endangered species list. In one of the greatest success stories in species recovery, conservation methods such as the banning of DDT and the prohibition against eagle hunting had by the beginning of the 21st cent. increased the breeding population in the lower 48 states to some 5,000 pairs. In 1995 the bald eagle was removed from endangered status, and in 2007, when there were nearly 10,000 breeding pairs in the lower 48, it was removed from threatened status. The bald eagle (and golden eagle) continue to be protected by federal law.

The golden, or mountain, eagle (genus Aquila—whence aquiline, meaning eaglelike) is widespread in the Northern Hemisphere, in the United States found mostly in the West. Unlike the bald eagle, it is an aggressive predator. In Asia it is trained to hunt small game (see falconry). The adult is sooty brown with tawny head and neck feathers; unlike those of the bald eagle, its legs are feathered to the toes. The gray and Steller's sea eagles (also in the genus Haliaetus) are native to colder areas of the Northern Hemisphere; the king or imperial eagle to S Europe and Asia; and the rare monkey-eating eagle to the Philippines. The harpy, or harpy eagle (Thrasyaetus harpyia), of Central and South America, the largest (38 in./95 cm long) of the hawks, eats macaws and sloths. It was named for the winged monsters of Greek myth and was called "winged wolf" by the Aztecs. New Zealand's extinct Haast's eagle, which had a 10-ft (3-m) wingspan and weighed 30% to 40% more than the harpy, was the top predator in the archipelago's ecosystem prior to the arrival of humans.

Eagles—impressive both in size and for their fearsome beauty—have long been symbols of royal power and have appeared on coins, seals, flags, and standards since ancient times. The eagle was the emblem of one of the Ptolemies of Egypt and was borne on the standards of the Roman armies and of Napoleon's troops. The American bald eagle became the national emblem of the United States by act of Congress in 1782. In folklore the eagle's ability to carry off prey, including children (e.g., the legend of Ganymede), has been exaggerated; even the powerful golden eagle can lift no more than 8 lb (3.6 kg).

Eagles are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Falconiformes, family Accipitridae.

Eagles are large birds of prey which are members of the bird order Falconiformes and family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other genetically. Most of the more than 60 species occur in Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species (the Bald and Golden Eagles) can be found in the USA and Canada, a few more in Central and South America, and three in Australia.

Eagles are differentiated from other birds of prey mainly by their larger size, more powerful build, and heavier head and bill. Even the smallest eagles, like the Booted Eagle (which is comparable in size to a Common Buzzard or Red-tailed Hawk), have relatively longer and more evenly broad wings, and more direct, faster flight. Most eagles are larger than any other raptors apart from the vultures.

Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, and powerful talons. They also have extremely keen eyesight to enable them to spot potential prey from a very long distance. This keen eyesight is primarily contributed by their extremely large pupils which cause minimal diffraction (scattering) of the incoming light.

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

Eagles 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.

Eagles are sometimes used in falconry. They appear prominently in myth and literature. In the Old World, such references are commonly to the Golden Eagle (or possibly closely related species found in warmer climates).

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.



Eagles in culture

The word

The modern English name of the bird is derived from the Latin term aquila by way of the French Aigle. The Latin aquila may derive from the word aquilus, meaning dark-colored, swarthy, or blackish, as a description of the eagle's plumage; or from Aquilo, the Latin version of Greek Boreas, or north wind.

Old English used the term Earn, related to Scandinavia's Ørn / Örn. The etymology of this word is related to Greek ornis, literally meaning "bird". In this sense, the Eagle is the Bird with a capital B.

Eagles as national symbols

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

The eagle is the symbol used to depict John the Apostle in some Christian churches, whose writing most clearly witnesses the divinity of Christ. In art, John, as the author of the Gospel, is sometimes depicted with an eagle. See Names of John.

The eagle is a sacred bird in some cultures and the feathers of the eagle are central to many religious and spiritual customs, especially amongst Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada, as well as among many of the peoples of Meso-America. Some Native American peoples revere eagles as sacred religious objects and the feathers and parts of Bald and Golden Eagles are often compared to the Bible and crucifix. Eagle feathers are often used in various ceremonies and are used to honor noteworthy achievements and qualities such as exceptional leadership and bravery. In the cultures of the Northwest Coast, Eagle is also a supernatural being and also the ancestor and features in the heraldic crests of important clans known as totem poles.

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped 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 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.

Eagles as organizational symbols

  • Munro. The image of a Golden Eagle is displayed the coat of arms of one of Scotland's most powerful clans, Munro. Gaelic Rothach.
  • Greece. The double-headed eagle is the emblem of the Greek sport clubs AEK (black eagle with open wings on yellow background) and PAOK (black eagle with closed wings on white background, as a symbol of mourning). It is a symbol of the clubs' origins, since both clubs were founded by Greeks who fled to Greece from Constantinople in 1922-23. The eagle itself is derived from the later version of the Roman Eagle, the Byzantine- or East Roman eagle.
  • Italy. The Roman eagle is the symbol of the Roman sports club S.S. Lazio.
  • Nigeria. The Nigeria Football Association, the nation's football (soccer) governing body, has a green eagle perched on a football as its organisational symbol and logo. The Nigerian national football team is known as the 'Super Eagles', the under-20 youth team as the 'Flying Eagles', and the under-17 national side as the 'Golden Eaglets'. They all have an eagle as their symbol.
  • Portugal. Eagle is the symbol of the Portuguese football team Sport Lisboa e Benfica.
  • Philippines . The Philippine Monkey-eating Eagle is the de jure National Bird of the country.
  • Turkey. Black Eagles is used for the Turkish sports club Beşiktaş J.K..Turkish Seljukian double headed eagle emblem.
  • México. Eagle is the mascot form Club America´s football club, since 1981.
  • Persian Empire: the symbol of the Persian army was an eagle


  • Splitting headaches? Recent taxonomic changes affecting the British and Western Palaearctic lists - Martin Collinson, British Birds vol 99 (June 2006), 306-323
  • Bruguier, Leonard. A Warrior's Eagle Feather

See also

External links

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