The eagle is a large bird of prey belonging to the Accipitridae family. There are several different genera that are interrelated, with more than 60 African and Eurasian species. In Canada and the United States there are two species of eagles, three species in Australia and nine species in South America and Central America.
Size and Shape
Eagles are set apart from other species by their larger and more powerful builds. Eagles have larger heads than most bird species, and larger and more powerful beaks as well. Most eagle species are larger than other raptors, with only vultures being larger. Broader wingspans are evident even in some of the smallest eagle species, such as the booted eagle, comparable in size to the red-tailed hawk and the common buzzard. The smallest eagle, the South Nicobar serpent-eagle, weighs only approximately 1.1 pounds, while the Philippine eagle and the Steller's sea eagle can each weigh up to 15 pounds.
Beak and Legs
Eagles, like other birds of prey, have beaks that are large and powerful. The eagle's beak is hooked, allowing it to effectively tear flesh. Eagles also have muscular legs that are especially strong, and powerful claws that help them catch prey. Their strength and musculature allows for them to make quick work of their prey, which includes a variety of small mammals and birds.
Eagles have especially keen eyesight that allows them to spot prey animals from long distances. This is because they have large pupils, ensuring a minimal amount of diffraction of incoming light. Eagles rely on this excellent eyesight to find prey from afar so that they may swoop down and attack without being noticed.
The primary eagle family is Accipitridae, with several subfamilies, genus and species within. The subfamily Buteoninae includes sea-eagles, true eagles and hawks. Martial eagle, steppe eagle, golden eagle, greater spotted eagle, lesser spotted eagle, white-tailed eagle and the bald eagle all belong to this subfamily. The subfamily Circaetinae contains snake-eagles like the short-toed eagle, the Madagascar serpent-eagle and the banded snake-eagle.
Habitat and Nesting
Eagle nests are called eyries, and they are built on the tops of high cliffs or in very tall trees. Most eagle species lay just two eggs at a time, but it is common for the first hatched to kill its younger sibling. Because female chicks are larger than males, the dominant chick is most frequently a female. It is highly uncommon for an eagle to interfere with this behavior.
- "Just Eagles"; Alan E. Hutchinson; 2000
- PBS: Eagles Introduction
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