Eagles are large birds of prey that have always awakened the fascination of humans. That is why they are part of the traditional mythology of many cultures. An example is Etón or the eagle of the Caucasus that, every night, devoured the Greek Prometheus when he was chained for stealing the fire from Mount Olympus.
Another curious mythological animal is the Alicante of the Atacama desert, a huge shiny golden eagle that feeds on precious metals. If a greedy human follows him, he will make him lose himself in the desert. In reality, the eagle’s diet does not include metals, nor does it include human beings. In this article, we tell you what do eagles eat.
What do eagles eat?
All eagles are predatory animals and therefore carnivores. Their prey is usually small or medium-sized mammals, such as lagomorphs, mustelids, and rodents. In addition, many consume other smaller birds. As we will see later, some eagles specialize in hunting very specific prey, such as some eagles that feed only on fish.
The prey that is part of the eagle’s diet depends on where they live in the world and also on their size. The largest can consume larger prey, while the smallest can only feed on animals with reduced sizes. Therefore, in the following sections, we will see what eagles eat according to their size.
What do large eagles eat?
The wingspan of great eagles can reach two meters and their body length varies between 60 and 90 centimeters. Females are usually quite larger than males.
The enormous size of these birds of prey allows them to hunt both large and smaller animals. Their diet is usually based on lagomorphs, such as rabbits, and medium-sized birds, such as pigeons and partridges. However, their diet is very varied and may include snakes, lizards, rats, coatis, weasels, and even monkeys.
Let’s see what the most common large eagles eat:
Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos): it is one of the eagles with the greatest distribution and its wingspan exceeds two meters. Their diet is very varied and includes rabbits and hares, medium-sized birds, lizards, and snakes.
Eastern imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca): Their diet is based on small mammals, such as susliks and hamsters, although they can also eat reptiles, birds and carrion.
Raptor eagle (Aquila rapax): This African eagle varies greatly in its diet, which includes mammals, lizards, birds, freshwater fish and even insects.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus): The North American eagle has a very opportunistic diet, although it enjoys river fish such as salmon and trout. You can also eat carrion and small mammals.
Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja): It is the largest eagle in South and Central America. Their diet is based on sloths. However, they also often eat primates, rodents, carnivores, and birds.
Spotted eagle (Aquila clanga): it is a medium eagle that is distributed throughout Eurasia. Their diet includes all kinds of animals, including those that are already dead (carrion).
What do small eagles eat?
The smallest eagles are known as eagles or harriers and their size ranges from 40 to 55 centimeters.
The prey of these birds of prey is smaller than that of larger eagles since they cannot carry so much weight. Therefore, they feed mainly on field mice, voles, small snakes and amphibians. When these are scarce, they eat many invertebrates, especially large lobsters.
This is what the most common small-sized eagles eat:
Eagles or Booted Eagles (Hieraaetus pennatus): their diet is very varied, although it is usually based on medium-sized birds, such as long-tailed birds, pigeons and blackbirds. They can also eat reptiles, baby rabbits, and large insects, such as grasshoppers.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus): They are birds associated with the coast and the only eagles that feed only on fish, along with the Oceanian osprey, P. cristatus.
Western Harrier (Circus aeruginosus): it is an eagle associated with wetlands with a very extensive distribution. It feeds, above all, on small rodents, young of marsh birds and reptiles. You can also eat amphibians, fish, and large insects.
Pale Harrier (Circus cyaneus): This species from the cold and temperate world is a raptor specialized in hunting over bush areas. He is very fond of rodents, small bird chickens (such as quail), snakes, and some types of insects.
Eaglet Harrier (Circus pygargus): is a Eurasian raptor associated with extensive grasslands. Currently, due to its disappearance, it survives in cereal cultivation fields. In them, it controls voles and other rodent populations, as well as locusts and granivorous birds.
Hudson’s Harrier (Circus hudsonius): is a small American raptor that feeds on voles, amphibians, and reptiles. When these prey is scarce, they do not hesitate to eat invertebrates.
Curiosities of the eagles
Now that we know what eagles eat, let’s look at some curious aspects of their biology. These are some curiosities of the eagles.
Eagles are monogamous
There are many eagles that have the same partner throughout their lives. Every year, they meet for reproduction and make a series of nuptial flights with which they consolidate the couple. The female usually incubates the eggs while the male is in charge of getting food and defending the nest. When the chicks hatch, both parents take care of them.
The bald eagle, for example, is one of the animals most faithful to its partner. In other birds of prey, such as the pale harrier ( C. cyaneus ), male polygamy is common, which can support more than one family at a time.
Chicks kill their brothers
When the resources that both parents carry to the nest are scarce, the strongest chicks decide to kill the weakest siblings. Thus, they maximize their chances of survival. For example, 26% of the Iberian imperial eagle ( A. adalberti ) chickens die from fratricide.
Some eagles consider that the predation consumes too much energy and decide to steal the prey that other raptors have obtained. The best example is the bald eagle ( H. leucocephalus ) that works hard to steal food from the osprey ( P. haliaetus ).
Eagles in danger of extinction
Some eagles are endangered or vulnerable. Among its main threats are poisons that are used illegally in game reserves, lead and pesticide contamination, a shortage of rabbits due to myxomatosis, and the destruction of their habitats.
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