Haliaeetus leucocephalus-tree-USFWS
Bald Eagle
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes ( or Accipitriformes, q.v.)
Family: Accipitridae

Several, see text

Eagles are members of the bird family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other. Most of the more than 61 species occur in Eurasia and Africa.[1] Outside this area, just two species (the Bald and Golden Eagles) can be found in the United States and Canada, nine more in Central and South America, and three in Australia.


Eagles are large, powerfully built birds of prey, with a heavy head and beak. 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. (Despite reduced size in aerodynamic feathers) Most eagles are larger than any other raptors apart from some vultures. Species named as eagles range in size from the South Nicobar Serpent Eagle, at 450 g (1 lb) and 40 cm (16 in), to the 6.7 kg (14.7 lbs) Steller's Sea Eagle and the 100 cm (39 in) Philippine Eagle. 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. They also have extremely keen eyesight (up to 3.6 times human acuity for the martial eagle) which enables them to spot potential prey from a very long distance.[2] 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 are larger than the male.[3][4]

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.[5][6]

Among the eagles are some of the largest birds of prey: only the condors and some of the Old World vultures are larger. Four species — Steller's Sea Eagle of eastern Asia, Harpy Eagle of South and Central America, Philippine Eagle and the Wedge-tailed Eagle of Australia — can reach a metre in length. All four can have a wingspan exceeding two metres, as can the Martial Eagle of Africa, most species in the genus Haliaeetus and several in the genus Aquila.[7]


File:Martial Eagle in Namibia.jpg
File:Wiki eagle.jpg
File:Sir Arny(Philippine Eagle).jpg

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.[8]


File:Eagle Lahore Zoo June302005.jpg

Eagles in culture

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; however, aquilus and aquilo may just as well derive from aquila (or be unrelated) and the latter be of unknown origin.

Old English used the term earn, related to Scandinavia's ørn / örn. The etymology of this word relates it to Greek ornís, meaning "bird", though other Indo-European languages (such as Welsh eryr or Russian orël / орёл) show that the meaning 'eagle' is older. The Greek word may be an old diminutive. The Albanian word for eagle is "shqiponje" deriving from the root "shqipe", which means "eagle".

In Britain before 1678, eagle referred specifically to the Golden Eagle, with 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.


File:Garuda by Hyougushi in Delhi.jpg

The Moche people of ancient Peru worshiped the animal and often depicted eagles in their art.[10]

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.[11] 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.[12]

In Hindu religion, Garuda is a lesser Hindu divinity, usually the mount (vahanam) of Vishnu. Template:IAST 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.)

Eagles as national symbols


File:Coat of arms of Mexico.svg
File:Austria Bundesadler.svg

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

Historic uses:


  1. ^ del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (editors). (1994). Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 84-87334-15-6
  2. ^ Shlaer, Robert (1972-05-26). "An Eagle's Eye: Quality of the Retinal Image" (PDF). Science. 176 (4037): 920–922. PMID 5033635. doi:10.1126/science.176.4037.920. Retrieved 2012-04-16. 
  3. ^ Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon; Comte De Buffon (25 November 2010). The Natural History of Birds: From the French of the Count de Buffon; Illustrated with Engravings, and a Preface, Notes, and Additions, by the Translator. Cambridge University Press. pp. 60–. ISBN 978-1-108-02298-9. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  4. ^ Rebecca L. Grambo (14 December 2003). Eagles. Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0-89658-363-4. Retrieved 18 February 2012. 
  5. ^ Grambo, Rebecca L (2003). Eagles. Voyageur Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-89658-363-4. 
  6. ^ Stinson, Christopher H (1979). "On the Selective Advantage of Fratricide in Raptors". Evolution. 33 (4): 1219– 1225. doi:10.2307/2407480. 
  7. ^ Ferguson-Lees and Christie (2001) Raptors, Helm Guides
  8. ^ Lerner, H. R. L.; D. P. Mindell (2005). "Phylogeny of eagles, Old World vultures, and other Accipitridae based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 37 (2): 327–346. PMID 15925523. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.04.010.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  9. ^ Bunce, M.; et al. (2005). "Ancient DNA Provides New Insights into the Evolutionary History of New Zealand's Extinct Giant Eagle". PLoS Biol. 3 (1): e9. PMC 539324Freely accessible. PMID 15660162. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0030009. Retrieved 2006-12-27.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  10. ^ Berrin, Katherine & Larco Museum. The Spirit of Ancient Peru:Treasures from the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997.
  11. ^ Office of Law Enforcement. "National Eagle Repository". Mountain-Prairie Region. United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  12. ^ Sin, Lena (2006-04-30). "Charges laid in eagle-poaching case". The Province (CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.). Retrieved 2007-11-20. 

Further reading

External links

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