Interesting Facts About Eagles For Kids
Do you know that eagles have the best vision in the animal kingdom? Read on for more interesting facts about the mighty eagle, its hunting prowess, and why it is an apex predator.
By Dr Shyam Kumar
The eagle is known as the king of birds because of its looks, strength, agility and grace. And, for the same reasons, it has been admired by humans since ancient times. The sight of a majestic eagle soaring in the sky above has also been a source of inspiration for many proverbs and poems.
Your child will love to read these fun and amazing facts about eagles including the various types of eagles in the world, where they live, where they build their nests, how they hunt for prey, and their lifespan.
Types of eagles around the world
Scientists often classify eagles under four natural groups based on their physical characteristics and hunting behaviour.
- Sea eagles or fishing eagles
- Booted eagles or true eagles
- Snake eagles and serpent eagles
- Harpy eagles
1. Sea eagles or fishing eagles
- Sea eagles are very large-sized eagles that primarily feed on live fish or carrion which they snatch from the water.
- A high-arched beak and bare lower legs are prominent features of birds in this group.
- Distribution: Sea eagles are found all over the world except in South America. The bald eagle is the only sea eagle which inhabits North America. The various other species of fishing eagles can be found in India, Southeast Asia, China, Africa and along the coasts of Australia.
- Habitat/nesting: Sea eagles inhabit forested areas along the coastline and near rivers or big lakes. The nests are usually huge and constructed with sticks and branches on the main forks of tree branches. These are lined with seawood, driftwood, grass, lichen or moss. The sea eagles may also build nests on cliffs if suitable tall trees are not available.
- Food/eating habits: Fish is the primary food for sea eagles. They also feed on carrion, sea snakes, crabs, molluscs, tortoises, small mammals and birds. However, the vulturine fish eagle, also known as the palm-nut vulture, is the only bird in this group which has a staple diet of fruits and vegetables.
Here is a list of the different species of sea eagles:
Bald eagle, Steller’s sea eagle, white-bellied sea eagle, Sanford’s sea eagle, African fish eagle, Madagascar fish eagle, Pallas's sea eagle or band-tailed fish eagle, white-tailed sea eagle, vulturine fish eagle, gray-headed fish eagle and lesser fish eagle.
2. Booted eagles or true eagles
- Eagles under this group have feathers right down to their ankles, hence the name booted eagles. These medium-sized birds of prey are scientifically classified as Aquila pennata and are mostly migratory.
- Booted eagles have two distinct colour forms. The more common pale birds have a light grey plumage with a darker head and flight feathers. The darker booted eagles have a rusty to dark brown plumage with blackish flight feathers.
- Distribution: Booted eagles are widely distributed across Southern Europe, Africa, Siberia and Asia. Only the southern African population of birds in this group are sedentary, while the rest migrate to Asia and Africa during winter.
- Habitat/nesting: The booted eagles build their nests in tall trees or rocky cliffs, or take over the nests of other large birds. They usually prefer to live in smaller groups of trees in mountainous areas or near open land as a nesting habitat compared to heavily forested areas. As a result, deforestation has not resulted in a decline in population of this species.
- Food/eating habits: The booted eagles usually prey on small mammals such as rabbits and mice, reptiles, large insects, and small to medium-sized birds. They also raid chicks or eggs from the nests of other birds.
Here is a list of the different species of booted eagles:
Golden eagle, Bonelli's eagle, martial eagle, tawny eagle, steppe eagle, wedge-tailed eagle, Verreaux's eagle, ornate hawk eagle, Eastern imperial eagle, Spanish imperial eagle, crowned hawk eagle, Wahlberg's eagle, Ayres's hawk eagle, African hawk eagle, Wallace's hawk eagle, Philippine hawk eagle, Javan hawk eagle, lesser spotted eagle, greater spotted eagle, Gurney’s eagle, Indian black eagle and Cassin’s hawk-eagle
3. Snake eagles and serpent eagles
- The snake eagles belong to the genus Circaetus and are named after their favourite prey. Apart from snakes, they occasionally hunt reptiles, rodents and small mammals and birds.
- Serpent eagles are small to mid-sized raptors most of which belong to the genera Spilornis, Dryotriorchis and Eutriorchis.
- Distribution: Snake eagles are found in the tropical forests of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. The species from the northern regions are migratory and spend the winter in Africa, India and southeast Asia.
- Habitat/nesting: This raptor builds its nest on trees with sticks and twigs, and lines it with grass, leaves or other vegetation. The nest of the snake eagle is usually small in size compared to the size of its body.
- Food/eating habits: Snakes are their main food source. Snake eagles and serpent eagles have thick, overlapping scales on their legs and toes which protect them against snake bites and venom. Apart from snakes, some species such as the Madagascan serpent eagle and the Congo serpent eagle hunt lemurs, lizards, chameleons and poultry.
Here is a list of the different species of snake eagles and serpent eagles:
Beaudouin's snake eagle, short-toed snake eagle, black-breasted snake eagle, brown snake eagle, banded snake eagle, crested serpent eagle, Great Nicobar serpent eagle, Kinabalu serpent eagle, Sulawesi serpent eagle, Philippine serpent eagle, Andaman serpent eagle, Congo serpent eagle, Madagascan serpent eagle and bateleur eagle
4. Harpy eagles or buteonine eagles
- The harpy eagle is the only member of the genus Harpia. It is the largest and most powerful bird of prey in the Americas and is a near threatened species.
- Harpy eagles measure 3 to 3.5 feet in length and have a wingspan of approximately 200cm. The female can weigh between 6.5 to 9kg and is heavier than the male. The male weighs between 4 to 5.5kg.
- Distribution: The harpy eagle inhabits the tropical lowland rainforests ranging from Argentina in the south to South Mexico in the north, and to the Guianas in the east.
- Habitat/nesting: The nests of the harpy eagle can be found on tops of trees that are 50 to 70m tall. The raptor constructs its nest with large twigs and fresh vegetation.
- Food/eating habits: The harpy eagle is capable of hunting large vertebrates such as monkeys, sloths, porcupines, pigs and deer. It also hunts rodents, reptiles and birds.
Types of eagles found in India
The various species of eagles found in the Indian subcontinent are Bonelli’s eagle, black eagle, white-bellied sea eagle, rufous-bellied eagle, steppe eagle, tawny eagle, serpent eagle, fish eagle, golden eagle, hawk eagle, Indian spotted eagle and eastern imperial eagle.
General physical features of eagles
- Eagles are equipped with large curved beaks designed to rip off flesh from the bones of their prey.
- An eagle’s beak is made up of keratin which grows constantly. Eagles rub their beak against hard surfaces like branches or rocks to keep it in good shape (feaking). Even tearing apart tough meat from bone helps to wear down the beak.
Eagles have very flexible and sensitive tongues loaded with mechanoreceptors which respond to pressure, distortion, texture, temperature and vibration. This helps them differentiate between sharp fins, large pieces of fur or chunks of bone and is especially useful when feeding their young.
- The eagle has a keen eyesight and excellent colour vision which allows it to spot its prey from a great distance. This becomes possible because of its large pupils which causes minimum scattering of the incoming light.
- The eagle’s eye functions as a telephoto lens because of its deep fovea, a cone-rich structure at the back of the eye which detects light in the centre of the field of vision and enhances magnification.
- Another feature responsible for the eagle’s sharp vision is a larger number of light-detecting cells (cones) in the retina allowing it to see objects in sharp detail.
- The eagle’s eyes are placed at an angle of 30 degrees away from the face which gives it a 340-degree field of vision compared to the 180-degree vision field of humans.
- A bony ridge above the eyes protects them from damage caused by tree branches or struggling prey. It is this bony ridge which gives the eagle its fierce look.
Feet and talons
- Eagles have four muscular toes with powerful curved talons in each foot. The eagle’s feet are strong enough to grab, carry or drag its prey a considerable distance through the air.
- Like human fingernails, the eagle’s talons are also made up of keratin and grow constantly. The process of gripping and tearing apart its prey and perching on hard rocky surfaces helps to wear down the overgrown talons.
- Eagles have powerful wings with which they skillfully swoop down on their prey while gliding at great speeds.
- They are even able to lift heavy prey into the air as the wings are large and wide enough to support the extra weight they carry.
Breeding and nesting behaviour
- Eagles are monogamous and are highly territorial.
- Both the male and the female eagle engage in nest building and use the same nest year after year.
- Bald eagles usually select the large forked branches on large, strong trees. Golden eagle nests can be found atop cliffs or rocky surfaces.
- The female eagle lays a clutch of 1 to 3 eggs on an average. The eggs hatch after a period of 35 to 45 days depending on the species.
- The baby eagle is known as an eaglet. Both the parents are involved in the care of the hatchlings and bring food to the nest in turns.
- In some eagle species, when food is scarce, the elder chick pecks and kills the younger eaglets and hoards all the food that the parents bring to the nest.
- The eaglets start to move out of the nest (fledge) after about 10 to 12 weeks once their wings are developed and strong enough for flight.
In general, eagles can live up to 30 years in the wild. They can survive longer in captivity.
Interesting eagle facts for kids
- Eagles are large powerful birds of prey with heavy beaks and strong feet equipped with curved talons.
- Eagles are apex predators and are positioned at the top of the food chain.
- The eagle is known as ‘baaz’ in Hindi.
- Eagle is the common name for members of the Accipitridae family. The females are usually larger than the males.
- There are over 60 known species of eagles in the world. Out of these, only two species are found to inhabit North America — the bald eagle and the golden eagle. The rest of the species are distributed across Europe, Asia, Africa and other countries.
- An eagle’s beak is made up of keratin which is the same protein which makes up our hair, skin and nails.
- An eagle’s eyesight is about four to eight times more powerful than the eyesight of an average human.
- The eagle hunts during the day. With its exceptionally keen eyesight, the eagle can spot its prey from as far as 5km away.
- The eagle can fly at speeds of 200kmph which is equal to the speed of a small jet aircraft.
- The eagle hunts smaller birds and bats in the sky, and feeds on small mammals, reptiles and fish on the ground.
- It often grabs its prey without landing and carries it to its perch to be torn apart and eaten.
- Eagles build nests known as ‘eyries’ on high cliffs, tall treetops or other inaccessible places. The female eagle usually lays two whitish eggs.
- The largest eagle in the world is Steller's sea eagle (scientific name: Haliaeetus pelagicus), which weighs between 5 and 9kg and has a wingspan measuring 2.2 to 2.45m.
- The Great Nicobar serpent eagle (scientific name: Spilornis klossi) is the smallest known eagle in the world. It weighs about 450g and measures about 16 inches in length. Also known as the South Nicobar serpent eagle, it is endemic to the Great Nicobar Island in India.
- The harpy eagle is known as the royal hawk in Brazil.
- The bateleur eagle can fly up to 300 miles a day at speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour.
- The Haast's eagle of New Zealand was the largest eagle known to have existed. It became extinct about 500 to 600 years ago.
Facts about the bald eagle
- The bald eagle (scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is only found in North America and Canada.
- The bald eagle is the national bird of the United States and shows up on many coins, flags and stamps.
- The bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States since 1782.
- The bald eagle weighs between 3 and 7kg, is 30 to 40 inches long, and has a wingspan of 2m.
- The bald eagle travels at speeds between 30 to 60kmph and can burst up to speeds of 160kmph when diving.
- Bald eagles build the largest tree nests ever recorded of any type of animal (up to 4m deep and 2.5m wide).
- The bald eagle and the golden eagle are protected under US federal laws such as The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Lacey Act.
Facts about the golden eagle
- The golden eagle is the national animal of five nations — Albania, Germany, Mexico, Kazakhstan and Austria.
- The golden eagle is North America’s largest bird of prey.
- The golden eagle weighs between 3 and 7kg, measures 3 feet in length and has a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet.
- The golden eagle can attain a maximum flight speed of 320kmph when diving to swoop in on its prey.
- In Greek and Roman mythology, the golden eagle was believed to be the messenger of gods.
About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 13 March 2020
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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