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What are the Different Types of Eagle?

By Alan Rankin
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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An eagle is a large bird of prey known for having broad wings and strong flight skills. They are native to every continent in the world except Antarctica. There are more than 60 species, most of them found in Europe, Asia and Africa. Like many birds of prey, they are highly adaptable and can survive in a wide variety of ecosystems. Most are grouped by species based on similar characteristics; these groups include serpent-eagles, hawk-eagles, true eagles and sea eagles.

Serpent-eagles are native to Asia and Africa. They make up a dozen species known for hunting snakes and reptiles. They and all species have sharp vision; powerful talons and beaks; and swift, silent flight. All are qualities that make them efficient hunters. Serpent-eagles are not as large as some other types, but they are still larger than most other birds.

Hawk-eagles are not hawks. They are birds once thought to resemble hawks. They populate tropical regions, primarily in Central and South America but also in Asia and Africa. They can be distinguished by their prominent head crests. Although most are medium in size, the group includes the crowned eagle and martial eagle, two of the largest species. Martial eagles can have a wingspan of 8 feet (2.4 meters) or more.

So-called true eagles include the golden eagle, the spotted eagle and the tawny eagle, all found in Africa, Asia and on the Indian subcontinent. A noted relation, now long gone, was the Haast’s eagle of New Zealand. Although they died out in the 1400s, Haast’s eagles were the largest species known to have existed. They weighed from 20 pounds to 30 pounds (9 kilograms to 13.4 kilograms) each and could strike prey with the force of a wrecking ball.

Sea eagles include some of the largest species still in existence, including the Steller’s sea eagle of Asia. These birds are primarily found near large bodies of water and live on fish and waterfowl. They are among the oldest eagles; paleontological evidence suggests similar birds existed at least 12 million years ago, and possibly as long as 20 million years before that. The bald eagle is part of this family.

The bald eagle has long been a national symbol of the United States, but it is one of only two eagle species found on the North American continent. This species was nearly driven to extinction in the mid-20th century by pesticide use and human development in their habitats. Conservation efforts paid off and bald eagle populations increased, especially in Alaska. The bird was removed from the United States' list of endangered species in 2007.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many types of eagles are there worldwide?

There are more than 60 species of eagles worldwide, classified into four main groups: fish eagles, booted eagles, snake eagles, and harpy eagles. These majestic birds are found on every continent except Antarctica, with the highest diversity in Africa and Asia, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

What are the largest species of eagles?

The Philippine Eagle and the Harpy Eagle are among the largest and most powerful eagle species. The Philippine Eagle, with a wingspan of up to 2.2 meters and weighing up to 8 kilograms, is considered the largest in terms of length and wing surface. The Harpy Eagle, meanwhile, is renowned for its formidable size and strength, capable of lifting prey equal to its own body weight.

Can you identify an eagle by its diet?

Yes, eagles' diets can be indicative of their species. Fish eagles, like the Bald Eagle, primarily consume fish. Snake eagles, such as the Short-toed Snake Eagle, specialize in hunting reptiles. Booted eagles, including the Golden Eagle, have a varied diet of mammals, birds, and reptiles. Harpy eagles are known to prey on tree-dwelling mammals like sloths and monkeys.

What is the most common eagle in North America?

The most common eagle in North America is the Bald Eagle, the national symbol of the United States. It is easily recognizable by its white head and tail feathers, contrasting with its dark brown body and wings. The Bald Eagle's population has made a remarkable recovery from the brink of extinction, thanks to conservation efforts and the banning of DDT.

Are all eagles apex predators?

Most eagles are considered apex predators, meaning they are at the top of their food chain with no natural predators as adults. Their keen eyesight, powerful talons, and strong beaks enable them to hunt and dominate other animals within their habitats. However, young eagles and eggs can be vulnerable to predation by other large birds or mammals.

What conservation status do eagles generally have?

Eagles' conservation status varies by species. Some, like the Bald Eagle, have seen successful recovery and are now listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Others, such as the Philippine Eagle and the Madagascar Fish Eagle, are critically endangered due to habitat loss, hunting, and reduced prey availability. Conservation efforts are crucial for the survival of these majestic raptors.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Sporkasia — On Feb 16, 2015

Eagles in general and bald eagles specifically are beautiful birds. I have seen as many as a half dozen of them at one time flying overhead. This is amazing when you stop to consider that not so long ago there was a real danger of the large birds becoming extinct. Hopefully, we continue to do a good job of protecting them and their habitats so that future generations will have the same opportunity as we have to appreciate them.

By Feryll — On Feb 16, 2015

There have been sightings of bald eagles in the area of the country where I live, but the birds are my no means commonplace in this area. When I was driving home a couple of days ago I saw a dead animal beside the road and there was a big bird standing beside the dead body.

There are a lot of vultures in this area. I see them flying around all of the time. So, when I saw the big bird beside a dead animal I naturally assumed the bird was a vulture making a meal of the unfortunate roadkill. As I got closer to the animals, I saw that the bird had a white head. Still, I didn't immediately realize what I was looking at.

When the bird took flight, I saw the white tail feathers, and the light bulb popped on in my head. I had just seen my first bald eagle in the wild.

By Drentel — On Feb 15, 2015

@Laotionne - Buzzards are probably best known for clearing away dead animals by eating the carcasses. This seems to be their primary role in nature. Eagles will eat animals they didn't kill, but they are unlike buzzards in that the dead animals the eagle eats have to be recently killed. A buzzard will eat animals that have been dead for virtually any length of time.

I don't know what the limit is for an eagle in terms of how long an animals can have been dead before the bird refuses to dine on it, but I'm sure the eagle has some specific way of making this decision.

By Laotionne — On Feb 14, 2015

Do eagles eat animals that are already dead the same way buzzards do, or do they only eat prey that they kill themselves?

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