Eagles are among the world's largest raptors. Some hawks, vultures and condors are the only raptors that can challenge eagles in size and majesty. (Some authorities consider vultures and condors to be raptors, while others do not. Several owl species are also larger than the smallest eagles.)
To many, eagles are the most awe-inspiring of all bird species. The selection of the Bald Eagle as the national symbol of the United States, with the Golden Eagle playing a similar role in Mexico, emphasizes a world-wide appreciation and respect for these feathered giants.
Eagle vs Hawk
So what's the difference between an eagle and a hawk? And what's with birds like the Ornate Hawk-Eagle, which can't seem to make up its mind?
In general, eagles are larger and often more heavily bodied than most hawk species. Technically, eagles fall into a group of raptors called accipiters. Birds in this group typically have long, narrow wings, as opposed to the broader wings of species like the Red-tailed Hawk (classified as a buteo).
While eagles are generally larger than hawks, there is a size overlap between the smallest eagle and largest hawk. If only the Red-tailed Hawk had narrower wings, it might be enjoying the extra respect coming from being recognized as an eagle.
There are two regularly occuring eagle species in the United States and Canada, plus two species occassionaly reported in Alaska and the Aleution Islands.
The white head and tail of the adult Bald Eagle, combined with its very large size and dark brown body make it very easy to identify. As with most raptors, the females (up to 14 pounds and a 7-foot wingspan) are large than the males (10 pounds and 6 to 6 1/2 foot wingspan).
Young Bald Eagles do not have white heads and solid white tails. They do show mottled white in the wings and the base of the tail. Juveniles have a brown body, 2nd-year birds have even more white than juveniles with sunstantial white mottling on the underside. It can take four or five years for Bald Eagles to reach their full adult plumage.
Bald Eagles in the "lower 48" were, for years, listed as an endangered species. The elimination of DDT and other conservation efforts have resulted in a remarkable recovery of the species, and they have now been removed from the endangered species list.
Bald Eagles prefer fish during the breeding season but will feed on carrion much of the year.
There are about 80,000 to 110,000 Bald Eagles in the wild; with approximately 4,500 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states.
Learn more about Bald Eagles on the Birdzilla.com web site.
The beautiful Golden Eagle is not as widespread as the Bald Eagle, and is generally considered a more western species. Adults are dark brown with a golden brown head and pale banding on the tail. Juveniles show white at the base of the primaries and tail. Golden Eagles are about the same size as Bald Eagles.
Nesting occurs on rocky cliffs or in large trees.
Golden Eagles prefer open habitats where they can hunt for rabbits, ground squirrels, marmots and even an occassional Rock Dove. They can soar at high altitudes and drop swiftly onto unsuspecting prey. They will scavange for carrion in the winter. They are more closely associated with drier habitats than the Blad Eagle, which is most often found near water.
Golden Eagle populations have fallen as a result of loss of habitat and human persucution. Ranchers would often kill Golden Eagles who were perceived as a threat to young cows, sheep, etc. They are now fully protected by law.
Learn more about Golden Eagles on the Birdzilla.com web site.
Steller's Sea Eagle
The adult Steller's Sea Eagle is a magnificent eagle with an 8-foot wingspan.It is very rare in Alaska, and has been recorded near Juneau and on the Pribilof and Aleutian Islands.
The adult has a very large, searing yellow-orange bill. It has a dark brown body, the leading edge of its wings are white. A white wedge-shapped tail and white on the lower sides seem to highlight the yellow legs.
A very rare visitor to the Aleutian Islands, where nesting has been reported.
Mainly brown with a short, white tail and mottled white upper body and head.
The Crested Caracara has often been referred to as the Mexican Eagle. Here are a few of the details.