Bald Eagle Diet | American Eagle Foundation

Eagles are known for being fierce hunters, but they are extremely lightweight for their size

Have you ever seen an eagle carrying prey or tree branches in its talons?

Perhaps you’re wondering, how much weight can an eagle carry?

Can eagles carry off dogs or humans?

What You’ll Learn TodayHow Much Weight Can an Eagle Carry Away?What’s the Heaviest an Eagle Can Carry?Can an Eagle Pick Up a Dog?Can an Eagle Pick Up a Human?What Bird Can Carry the Most Weight?Conclusion

How Much Weight Can an Eagle Carry Away?

Eagles are majestic creatures protected in the United States by law

But despite their wide wingspan and powerful talons, they can’t carry a whole lot of weight

Exactly how much weight an eagle can carry depends on the species

Most species can only carry a few pounds at a time

For example, bald eagles generally weigh about 10 to 12 pounds and can carry about one third of their own weight

So the average amount of weight a bald eagle can carry is 3 to 4 pounds

Some bald eagles are larger and stronger than others; these may be able to carry a slightly higher amount of weight

The eagle’s age may also play a role; mature eagles in their prime will be able to carry more weight than very young or very old eagles

Another important factor is momentum–how fast the eagle is flying and how much they have to slow down to pick up their load

In general, greater airspeed allows them to carry more weight because their momentum aids their strength

A bald eagle (or any eagle, for that matter) can snatch a large fish or a bird of prey while in flight, often barely slowing their flight pattern in the process

They can carry a heavier load this way than if they had to land first

“An eagle that lands on the beach to grab a fish, and then takes off again, is limited to a smaller load than an eagle that swoops down at 20 or 30 miles an hour and snatches up a fish

That momentum and speed gives the bird the ability to carry more weight”

Regardless of exact weight, eagles can’t travel as far with heavier loads as they can with lighter loads

If they are unable to transport a large kill all at once, they will sometimes divide their prey into smaller chunks and transport them to the nest in separate pieces

What’s the Heaviest an Eagle Can Carry?

In North America, a bald eagle may be able to carry up to 7 or 8 pounds if conditions are ideal

Golden eagles may be able to carry a bit more, but even most of the largest eagles in the world will not be able to carry more than 10 or 12 pounds at once

The harpy eagle is a notable exception

This giant jungle-dwelling eagle can haul up to 20 pounds at once under ideal conditions

To be able to carry the maximum amount of weight, an eagle would need the following conditions:

Wide open spaces to allow for wide wingspans and fast flight patterns;

A high rate of speed–at least 20 to 30 miles per hour–and the ability to maintain much of that speed as they grab their intended load;

The ability to snatch the load in flight without having to land;

Of course, these ideal conditions rarely all come together at once, so even though an eagle may be able to carry prey and objects of unusually large weights, they rarely do

Can an Eagle Pick Up a Dog?

You may have heard stories about eagles diving at dogs and carrying them off, leash and all

It is true that some eagles may have the strength to carry off some small dogs, depending on the weight of the dog

Generally, though, eagles stay away from dogs because they don’t like getting too close to people

So, the chance of having your dog picked off by an eagle, even if you see them hanging around your local dog park, is extremely rare

Of course, if a dog is left unattended or gets lost in a wooded area, especially if the eagles in the area are experiencing a food shortage, the dog may become more of a target

Even larger dogs may be at risk if they are alone, as eagles have the ability to kill much larger prey than they can carry and they will take whatever they can get if they’re starving

Can an Eagle Pick Up a Human?

Similar to the dog stories, there have been rumors of eagles picking up and carrying off children, especially younger children who are still quite small

First of all, it’s extremely unlikely that an eagle could lift and carry a child, as even a newborn baby would be almost too heavy for an eagle’s slight frame

Also, once again, eagles are unlikely to get close to humans

They will not risk approaching adult humans even if they are fairly confident in their ability to carry off the children

That said, it’s important to keep children close at all times if you live in an area with eagles

Young eagles may dive at very small children who get lost or separated from other people in the group, which may cause serious injuries

Young eagles learn how to hunt by experimenting, by testing the limits of what they can and can’t do

Of all eagles, juveniles are the most likely to attempt to carry off kids or pets, but even then, this is extremely rare and unlikely

What’s more, it would be almost impossible for the eagle to fly off with the child

What Bird Can Carry the Most Weight?

Earlier in this article, we mentioned the harpy eagle

This powerful bird, which lives in Central and South America, appears to be capable of carrying the most weight of any bird of flight

The harpy eagle stands 3 to 4 feet tall and has a wingspan of up to 8 feet

These eagles weigh up to 20 pounds and can carry up to their own weight if conditions are ideal

Though harpy eagles don’t make a habit of carrying 20 pounds every time they go out for a hunt, they will regularly carry around 10 to 12 pounds

Harpy eagles have been known to eat a wide variety of prey, including ocelots, iguanas, boa constrictors, and even caimans

Check out this video to learn more about harpy eagles:

https://wwwyoutubecom/watch?v=fS1TfANV0WAVideo can’t be loaded because JavaScript is disabled: Beware The Harpy!

| Peru’s Wild Kingdom (https://wwwyoutubecom/watch?v=fS1TfANV0WA)

Most eagles can carry 3 to 4 pounds, though some are able to carry much more

The harpy eagle, for example, can carry up to 20 pounds of weight at once

How much weight an eagle can carry depends on their species, how fast they are flying, how wide their wingspan, and even how old they are

On February 12 of 2020, DM2 pole-vaulted into the nest with a stick that looked more like a small tree!

On November 6 of 2019, Mr North dropped a stick of unknown weight, although it was clearly more than he could lift from the ground: https://youtube/x0Cb6S79Kz4

And on November 4th of 2015, photographer Alex Lamine photographed the female bald eagle at Berry College carrying a very large stick, which she dropped

It turned out to weigh 12 pounds!

How much can bald eagles carry?

Under the right conditions, a little over 100% of their body weight!

We’ve speculated quite a bit about how much weight eagles can carry

I talked to Professor Jim Grier (he has studied birds of prey extensively and owned golden eagles) , Brett Mandernack, Neil Rettig, Chuck Sindelar (a friend of Bob’s who was deeply involved in bald eagle recovery), Jon Gerrard (who wrote The Bald Eagle: Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch with Gary Bortolotti), and Professor David Bird (among other things, the author of The Bird Almanac, A Guide To Essential Facts and Figures of the World’s Birds)

They told me that the amount of weight a bird could carry was highly dependent on the situation, including:

How the object was carried

Was it caught and carried in flight (with momentum) or dead-lifted from the ground?

The direction the object was being lifted in

Was the object being lifted up or down?

It looks like he broke the stick off somewhere above the nest and glided down rather than lifting up

Eagles are masters when it comes to maximizing energy!

What the eagle experts said about eagles, flight, and sticks

Grier compared eagles with aircraft and talked about dynamics, flight conditions, and how the object was carried: “I sometimes got the impression that my golden eagle could carry as much or more in his crop than in his feet, but never got any good measurements or wrote down details

For example, he could capture a large rabbit that he could not fly with…but then he’d eat most of it and be able to fly with a really full crop

I think the trim of the eagle, as in airplanes, and drag/balance of carried items, is important” He added: “Flight conditions make a big difference, particularly at the limit of weight, as with aircraft

The best conditions are high air pressure with a steady wind plus room and conditions for a good take-off, all of which affect the ability to get airborne and then stay airborne

I’ve seen bald eagles carry large fish under some conditions, for example, that they couldn’t under other conditions”

According to the FAA, center of gravity deviations as small as three inches can dramatically change the handling characteristics of some fully loaded aircraft

When Jim’s golden eagle ate a large rabbit, it was for all practical purposes ‘balancing’ the cargo in its crop, which is located in the center of its neck above the top of its chest

In this case, balance was a bigger issue than weight as far as lift and stable flight were concerned

For more information on how the center of gravity affects flight, watch this video: https://youtube/00CGAPOp7A0

Chuck Sindelar wrote about watching golden eagles play with sticks outside of nest-building season

A second golden eagle would follow the first up into the sky and would get into a position where, when the first bird with the stick dropped it, the second bird would dive and regrab it, often before the stick reached the tops of the trees below

Sometimes he would have to pull out of his dive and allow the stick to hit and enter the trees, and then both birds world move a bit away and do this all over again with a new stick” He also pointed out that while he had never personally seen a bald or golden eagle carrying sticks that large, he had often seen them in nests

Jon Gerrard expressed interest in how sticks are carried

In the case of the Berry female and DM2: “…it would be more common for an eagle to fly in to a limb, usually a dead limb, and break it off in flight

Did the eagle gnaw it off at the thickest part of the limb?

And how far did it carry it before dropping the limb?” He recounted a story from the book “The Bald Eagle Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch”, which he wrote with Gary Bortolotti (pages 35 and 36)

“It is of a pair of eagles nesting along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana in the 1890s

The female regularly caught and carried Snow Geese (Blue phase) – probably weight 45 to 6 pounds – for up a a mile and a half to their nest

The Geese were caught high and the eagle was able to glide down to the nest with the goose

This feat was repeated on a number of days, and there were apparently 35 blue goose heads found in the nest, suggesting it was a common practice

The feat was likely possible because the geese were caught high in the air and going to the nest was downhill

Since this eagle was nesting in the southern part of the range, the female’s weight would likely be in the 8 to 11 pound range, so the bird would likely have been carrying about half its weight”

Neil Rettig shared some of the observations he made filming bald eagles along the Mississippi river: “In 2015 I was able to get a nice shot on video of a bald Eagle near Stoddard collecting a big branch from the canopy of a cottonwood tree

I also filmed a juvenile bald eagle 2 winters ago catching an adult mallard in the air and having a hard time keeping it aloft

In high winds eagles can lift more, as Jim pointed out

In general, the expert panel felt that in most circumstances, it would be unlikely for a bald eagle to carry much more than 50-60% of its body weight

However, it might carry more if the incentives and flying conditions were right: favorable winds, a down-carry versus an up-carry, a momentum capture versus a dead-lift, plenty of maneuvering and flapping space, a well-balanced load, and a highly desirable object like a large stick or a dead fawn

How much can birds carry?

Professor Bird provided a table from his book, The Bird Almanac, A Guide To Essential Facts and Figures of the World’s Birds, which I found absolutely astonishing!

According to his information, a bald eagle should be able to carry 108% of its body weight

Check out the American kestrel at 145%, the Pallas’s Fish Eagle at 160%, or (Bella fans take note!) the tiny Calliope Hummingbird carrying its mate – 116% of its body weight!

Taken from his book, The Bird Almanac, A Guide To Essential Facts and Figures of the World’s Birds

Under favorable conditions, eagles can carry, or at least glide, with around 108% of their body weight

He probably weighs around nine pounds, although we don’t know how much the stick weighed

But he took off from a low angle, he had to put a lot of work into gaining lift, the wind was blowing from an unfavorable direction, he lost lift making a turn towards the nest, and the stick was swinging slightly, making it harder to carry

Once he dropped the stick, it was more than he could dead lift from the ground

So why did DM2 bring a heavy stick in when Mr North and the Berry College female failed?

Those two eagles might have had ideal conditions for snapping sticks (favorable winds and plenty of room), but they were trying to lift heavy, poorly-balanced sticks with the weight to one side

Their sticks swung rapidly down to hang like a weight below each eagle, causing them to roll, pitch, and lose lift

Sudden center of gravity changes are never a good thing, especially when the object you are flying with weighs more than you do!

DM2 appeared to be gliding down, not lifting up, and his trajectory carried him – and his giant stick – right into the nest!

Thanks so much to Jim Grier, Chuck Sindelar, Jon Gerrard, David Bird, Brett Mandernack, and Neil Rettig for talking to me!

Professor Bird’s book, The Bird Almanac, A Guide To Essential Facts and Figures of the World’s Birds: https://smileamazoncom/The-Bird-Almanac-Essential-Figures/dp/1552979253/

Jon Gerrard and Gary Bortolotti’s book, The Bald Eagle Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch: https://smileamazoncom/Bald-Eagle-Haunts-Wilderness-Monarch/dp/0874744512/

Barry College Eagles Facebook Page: https://wwwfacebookcom/berrycollegeeagles/

FAA regulations on weight and balance

That is part of it, but it also helps assure CG remains steady during sensitive operations that involve lift

Eagle drops fawn on power line

This is a very young deer – it was dropped on the power line on June 18th and still had spots

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus): bird of prey found in North America

The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States

The founders of the United States wanted a bird to symbolize a nation they hoped would be strong and powerful and one that could soar high in the sky to represent freedom

To fit this description, the founders chose the bald eagle, which is an eagle species found only in North America

Size and Weight:

American bald eagles are one of nature’s largest raptors, with wings that can span eight feet

Even their nests can weigh up to a ton

Female bald eagles are about 25% larger than males

While female bald eagles weigh 10 to 15 pounds, males weigh 6 to 9 pounds

Despite what their name may suggest, bald eagles aren’t actually bald

Bald eagles are often found near bodies of water to be close to their favorite food — fish

Large groups of Bald eagles will gather along rivers in Alaska when salmon is abundant

When fish are scarce, they also hunt small mammals like rabbits, squirrels and even young deer

At times, they may scavenge food from other birds or visit human garbage dumps

Bald eagles are adaptable birds

Bald eagles are found throughout North America from Canada and Alaska to Mexico

It is believed that bald eagles mate for life, and the pair builds a nest together

Once the nest is to the eagles’ liking, the female lays one to three eggs

The mother lays her eggs several days apart, once a year

Both parents take turns keeping the eggs warm day and night until they hatch

The oldest, biggest eaglet may even kill its smaller, younger siblings over food

This is a survival strategy for the eagles, ensuring that at least one chick gets a good chance at living to adulthood

Most eagles do not survive the first year

The mother does most of the chick-sitting, while the father provides the food for the family

At 12 weeks old, about the time that they leave the nest, they turn a dark brown

Bald eagles are believed to mate for life

One way that bald eagles impress each other is through a special aerial courtship dance in the sky

The male and female lock on to each other’s talons and tumble and twist in the air

Once bald eagles find a mate, they look for a spot to build their nest

They look for a spot where the fishing is good, where the trees are tall and where there are few disturbances

The pair then builds their nest high in a sturdy tree

They continue to add to their nest year after year, with twigs, grass, branches and feathers

Eagle nests can grow to be massive

The largest nest, found in Florida, weighed 2 tons and measured 9 feet across and 20 feet deep

The median life expectancy for Bald eagles is 165 years

Bald eagles are at the top of the avian food chain, and their only natural enemies are bears and wolves

Therefore, the largest threat to bald eagle populations is humans

Unbeknownst to the farmers, this pesticide use had adverse impacts on bald eagles, who ate fish from bodies of water that had been contaminated by overuse of the poison

The widespread use of pesticides disrupted eagle reproduction, and forests, where eagles nested, were cleared

While biologists once estimated that up to 500,000 eagles soared the sky, their numbers dropped drastically during this time

The bald eagle is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN’s list of endangered species

In 1978, the eagle was one of the first species to be given protection under the Endangered Species Act Later, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed 1982 the Bicentennial Year of the American Bald Eagle and noted June 20, 1982, as National Bald Eagle Day At the time of this resolution, bald eagles were endangered in 43 states

Bald Eagle Behavior

Biology | Behavior | Diet | Nests | Migration | Demographics | Eaglets | Decline & Recovery National Symbol | Laws Protecting Eagles | Diseases | Dangers | AEF & Eagles | Overview

Do Bald Eagles mate for life?

Typically, yes, although occasionally an intruding adult (not one of the pair) comes in and battles the resident bird for the territory, sometimes then taking over

If one of the pair dies, the other will find a new mate and usually keep going in the same territory

How do eagles mate / copulate and how often?

The female will lean forward, the male will land on her back

The female will move her tail feathers to one side, the male will press and twist his cloacal opening around her cloaca, passing the sperm from his cloaca to hers

Generally, eagles may mate throughout the year depending on if the pair migrates

Frequent mating strengthens their bond to each other and increases the chance of fertile eggs, the female may have 3 two week windows throughout a breeding season where she is fertile

The male’s sperm is said to be viable inside the female for 10 days

Increasing daylight hours causes the females pituitary gland to secrete a hormone that turns on the ova

Double clutching is laying a second set of eggs

This typically happens after the first set is removed (this was done during early Bald Eagle reproduction days to increase the amount hatched each year

In the wild, a double clutch could happen if the eggs were damaged by being stepped on or lost to other animals

Eagle biologist, Dr Peter Sharpe, states: “Eagles will generally not lay another clutch if they have incubated for more than about 2 weeks, so there is probably a switch that is triggered by a particular amount of incubating that does not allow them to become fertile again within a season”

Do Bald Eagles soar alone?

Bald Eagles tend to soar alone, rather than flocking with other eagles

However, they sometimes concentrate in the same place due to a plentiful common food source, or for shelter from the cold wind

Do Bald Eagles establish a territory?

Yes They select a breeding territory based upon an evaluation of all the things they are looking for: food supply, suitable nesting and perching trees, and isolation from excessive human activity

Wintering birds do not establish a territory, but usually do use the same area each winter

How fast can a Bald Eagle fly?

Average migratory flight / soaring speed is 50 kilometers/hour (3106 mph)

Normal flight speed going from perch to perch is much less than this

The Bald Eagle catches prey by flying low and “snatching” with their feet mostly, not like ospreys or peregrine falcons that actually dive at their prey

Can a Bald Eagle swim?

Even nestlings that haven’t learned to fly can swim!

It’s not uncommon for an eagle to “misjudge” and latch into a fish too heavy / large for it to fly with, so they then may swim quite a distance to shore, and eat the fish there

How far does a Bald Eagle fly each day?

It is very dependent on the time of year, the availability of prey, weather conditions, age of the eagle, and many more things

Obviously, during migration, for those eagles that do migrate long distances each spring and fall, average daily flights can be 124 miles or more

While on the wintering and breeding grounds, flights are much shorter, and depend heavily on prey availability, suitable roosting locations, and weather

During non-migratory times, probably less than 10 – 20 miles per day (or less)

What survival instincts help the Bald Eagle?

They typically build their nests high up in a tree, almost always with commanding views of their surroundings (all the better to avoid and see their enemies)

They typically build their nests near water (all the easier to spot and access food)

They vigorously defend their nesting territory when breeding, yet become gregarious when not breeding

They will build and use alternate nests

They will sit (perch) for long hours; in winter, for up to 98 percent of the day, conserving energy

Their distinct plumage, especially that of young birds (mostly brown and cryptic)

How much can a Bald Eagle lift?

A good general rule seems to be that eagles can carry up to half of their own weight

This obviously means female eagles are able to carry more larger prey than the males

Depending on the size of a Bald Eagle, it can lift between 4 – 6 kilograms (88 – 13 lbs)

Some Alaskan eagles have been recorded lifting weights of well over 7 kg (154 lbs)

Sometimes eagles have trouble judging the weight of prey

Eagles in Alaska have “locked on” to a large salmon, obviously heavier than could be carried away in flight, and the eagle then floats and swims to shore with its prey rather than give up the prey

Why do Bald Eagles break off branches while flying?

Immature eagles may occasionally do this for play or practice, but it is typical behavior for adults prior to and during nesting

This is how an adult eagle prepares its nest for the breeding season

Those of our viewers who watch wild Bald Eagles Romeo and Juliet in NE Florida, have seen an entire dead tree being defrocked of its limbs as the adult eagles prepared for their nesting season, bringing branch after branch after branch from this tree to strengthen and decorate their nest

Why do Bald Eagles interlock talons while soaring?

Talon-grappling and tumbling are frequently observed behaviors; seen between all combinations of eagles—between mated adults, un-paired adults, adult and immatures, immatures with immatures, etc

These are also likely “unions’ of any-sex combination of birds

That variety of participants, tells me right away there is no one answer to what this behavior is for, but rather, that it happens for a variety of reasons

The most often I see this, is with and between immatures, and I’m convinced it is both play and learning (flight capability)

I do believe that eagles get enjoyment out of certain activities, which could be called play, such as when they chase each other in flight, tumble, roll, etc

As with humans, I think immature Bald Eagles are more prone to “play” than adult birds

What sounds do bald eagles make?

Bald Eagles have several distinct vocal sounds

The ‘Peal Call’ consists of high-pitched, prolonged, gull-like cries

Females tend to have lower pitched calls than males

Juvenile Eagles have their own ‘Peal Call’ as well as a chirping sound they use as nestlings to beg for food





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