Eagles are large, powerful birds of prey with hooked beaks and sharp talons. They are found worldwide, on every continent except Antarctica, and in many habitats, including mountains, forests, deserts, grasslands, and coastal areas.
In North America, eagles occupy many habitats between Canada and Mexico. Golden Eagles primarily live in the western half of the continent, while Bald Eagles live throughout the entire continent and on both the East and West Coasts.
Eagles are apex predators and eat many animals, including fish, birds, mammals, and reptiles. They are excellent hunters and find their prey while soaring above the ground. Eagles also have impressively large nests they build in places high above the ground.
What Do Wild Eagles Eat?
Wild eagles are carnivores, which means they only eat other animals. An eagle’s diet depends on the prey items available within the habitat of its territory. Eagles are opportunistic and generally eat any animal they can catch, including tiny dogs, lambs, and small deer.
Eagles that live near water usually eat a large proportion of fish relative to other prey items, and eagles that live in forested areas, open grasslands, or deserts eat rabbits, rodents, snakes, birds, and any other animals they can catch.
What Do Captive Eagles Eat?
Injured wild eagles are sometimes rescued and taken to rehabilitation centers or zoos. These eagles usually cannot hunt for themselves, so the caretakers at these facilities feed these birds a special diet designed to maintain good health for the birds.
Eagles at rehabilitation centers and zoos, like the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., feed their eagles a varied diet of rodents like rats, fish, and birds, including chicken pieces and quail.
What Do Bald Eagles Eat?
Bald eagles are common in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, and the central and eastern United States. They usually live near large bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes, and oceans, and build their nests in tall trees or the sides of cliffs near water.
The diet of Bald Eagles depends on what is seasonally available in the region where they live. For example, in the Pacific Northwest, Bald Eagles often eat salmon during the summer and fall salmon runs.
Bald Eagles in the central and eastern United States eat large fish that hang out in shallow waters or just below the surface of deeper waters, such as carp, bass, and trout. They also catch small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and other birds that live near bodies of water.
What Do Golden Eagles Eat?
Golden eagles, like Bald Eagles, are opportunistic predators. They live in many habitats but often prefer open lands, such as desert scrub and grasslands, where prey animals are easier to detect and capture.
The wildfires that have ravaged much of the Western United States where Golden Eagles live have caused significant shifts in their diet that might be detrimental to the survival of young eagles because research has shown a decline in the number of eagles over time.
Before wildfires changed much of the open grassland and scrub landscape, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals, including black-tailed jackrabbits and mountain cottontails, comprised a more significant percentage of their diet.
After wildfires decimated millions of acres of habitat across several states, Golden Eagles changed their primary prey to birds, such as Mallards, Rock Pigeons, and American Coots. Unfortunately, Rock Pigeons are notorious vectors for a protozoan that kills young eagles.
What Do Baby Eagles Eat?
Baby eagles, called eaglets, hatch and stay in the nest for ten to twelve weeks before fledging. During this time, the male and female eagles bring meat to the nest to feed their eaglets. When the nestlings are very young, their parents rip the prey item into pieces to feed their young.
Once the eaglets are mature enough, the parents drop off the prey animal in the nest, and the eaglets rip the carcass into pieces by themselves. After their young fledge, the parents must still hunt for food and feed their young for several more weeks until the eaglets learn to hunt.
Eaglets eat whatever prey animals their parents bring to the nest, including fish, small mammals, reptiles, and birds. These eaglets are strictly carnivorous, and their diet depends on what prey items are available in their environment.
What Do Eagles Eat in Winter?
Eagles that live in northern climates, such as Alaska, Canada, and the northern contiguous United States, migrate south or to coastal regions during the winter. By migrating, eagles can find more reliable sources of food where winter temperatures are milder.
Once eagles complete their months-long breeding season, they begin migrating during the fall, when lakes and rivers start freezing. Eagles begin the return trip to their breeding grounds as temperatures rise in the late winter and early spring, usually between January and March.
Eagles become more opportunistic during the winter, feeding on any small mammals and carrion they can find. Bald Eagles continue eating fish and waterfowl throughout the winter as long as the waters where they overwinter remain ice-free.