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The Diet Of Eagles: Hunting Habits & Preferred Diets

Eagles are huge, intimidating raptors. When I see their long talons and massive hooked beak, I’m good with admiring them from a distance!

Their natural weapons look sharp enough to dispatch a wide variety of prey, maybe any animal they feel like eating!

However, to be honest, as powerful as eagles are, they mostly eat small and medium-sized animals. The diets of Bald and Golden Eagles also differ in some ways. What do these impressive birds dine on? How do they catch their prey?


Key takeaways:

  • Eagles are birds of prey, which means their diet consists of animal sources.
  • There are two resident eagle species in North America, but their diets are not necessarily the same.


The Diet of Eagles

Bald and Golden Eagles are similar in size and can prey on some of the same animals. However, they tend to hunt in different places.

In general, Bald Eagles are tied to water while Golden Eagles live in drier places.

Bald Eagles frequent a wide variety of aquatic habitats including coastlines, lakes, rivers, and marshes. In such places, they catch a lot of fish but complement their diet with some other animals. They also adapt their diet to the seasons.

Young Bald Eagle eating a fish

In summer, fish are the main menu item. In fall and winter, they catch more ducks and other waterbirds, even an occasional goose! At that time of year, Bald Eagles also eat more carrion, especially dead salmon and other fish that have finished spawning.

Golden Eagles, on the other hand, feed on mammals and birds. They typically prey on mammals the size of rabbits but can also catch smaller prey, and larger animals too! Golden Eagles can be important predators of foxes, and occasionally catch and kill animals as big as wild goats!

Like Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles also feed on carrion and eat various birds too. They catch and kill everything from crows to coots, Wild Turkeys, and small crane species!


How Do Eagles Hunt?

Eagles hunt their prey by using one of their best skills; their incredible eyesight. They watch unwary animals from a high perch or while soaring high overhead.

For Bald Eagles, such animals might be fish rising to or swimming near the surface, or ducks floating or sitting in the open and thus easier to catch. In the case of Golden Eagles, they might spot a Jackrabbit busy feeding in an open area, a colony of Prairie Dogs, or a bird flying through their field of view.

Golden Eagle enjoying a meal

After focusing in on a potential prey item, the eagle starts to fly towards it. As the eagle gets closer, the big bird picks up speed and then sneaks up on the animals to snatch it with its talons. If the prey item is a bird, eagles can pursue it in flight or dive down to grab it.

Bald Eagles swoop low over the water to snatch fish with their talons, and Golden Eagles can also walk on the ground to catch prey!

Both species typically kill their prey by grasping the animal with their strong feet and long talons. After killing it, they usually carry the animal to a tree or cliff and tear off flesh with their strong beaks.


What Do Baby Eagles Eat?

Baby eagles have very similar diets as their parents and eat the same animals that adult birds feed on. A day or two after hatching, male eagles bring fish and other prey to the nest, and the female feeds her babies.

She feeds them by picking small pieces of flesh from the dead animal and placing it in the baby eagle’s mouth.

The male eagle brings all the food for the first two weeks and then both parents bring prey for the rest of the nesting period. When the eaglets are five weeks old, they start to feed themselves but keep begging for food, even after leaving the nest.

Baby eagles are fed by their parents

Golden Eagles have pretty similar nesting behavior. Their babies are fed pieces of rabbit, ducks, or other animals that their parents also catch and eat for themselves, and the male Golden Eagle brings food for the first two weeks.

Both parents bring prey after that time and feed their young by tearing off chunks of flesh from ground-squirrels, rabbits, grouse, and other animals. Once the young eagles can stand up, the adults drop pieces of the dead animal, or the entire prey item in the nest, and the young eagles feed themselves.


Laser-Sharp Vision And Other Fun Facts

  • Bald Eagles frequently steal fish from other eagles, Ospreys, and gulls!
  • Golden Eagles sometimes hunt foxes and other mammals by running after them on the ground.
  • In some parts of Alaska and British Columbia, hundreds of Bald Eagles can gather to feed on large numbers of salmon that die after spawning.
  • One study in the Chesapeake Bay showed that deer and raccoons were the most common mammals eaten by a pair of Bald Eagles. However, these were probably road-killed animals that the eagles commonly scavenged.
  • Eagles spot prey with vision that is four to five times better than that of the average person!
  • Pairs of eagles sometimes hunt together to catch Wild Turkeys, and even animals as large as adult goats and sheep.
  • Golden Eagles have feet that can squeeze prey with 400 pounds of pressure per square inch!
  • Bald Eagles sometimes eat large amounts of food and digest it over several days.


Frequently Asked Questions

What do eagles like to eat the most?

Eagles like to eat small mammals and medium to large birds the most. Bald Eagles also like to eat fish, and both Golden and Bald Eagles also like to eat carrion.

Do eagles eat other birds?

Eagles eat other birds, including ducks, geese, grouse, crows, and other raptors. Usually ,they go for birds that are smaller than them.

Do eagles drink water?

Eagle drink water – all birds do.

Do Bald Eagles eat cats?

On rare occasions, Bald Eagles eats cats. However, this is a very rare occurrence; they usually eat fish and other animals.

Do eagles eat other eagles?

Yes, very rarely, Golden Eagles can eat other eagles.

How often do eagles eat?

Eagles usually eat every day. However, if they have eaten a lot, they can go without food for a few days.

Do eagles see humans as prey?

No, eagles do not see humans as prey, but they can attack you, especially during breeding season, when they are more territorial. However, this rarely happens.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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