Eagles are some of the most majestic birds found across the world. With their large, sharp talons and hooked beaks, it’s no wonder many wonder – are eagles carnivores? The short answer is yes, eagles are strictly carnivorous birds.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at eagles’ dietary habits. We’ll explore what they eat, how they hunt, and why their bodies are adapted for an all meat diet. By the end, you’ll have a thorough understanding of why eagles are true carnivores of the skies.

An Overview of Eagles as Carnivores

Eagles belong to the larger group of carnivorous birds known as raptors

Eagles are predatory birds that belong to the biological grouping of raptors, which refers to carnivorous birds with strong talons and curved beaks specialized for hunting prey. Over 60 species of eagles can be found across the world, all of which are obligate carnivores at the top of their respective food chains.

As raptors, eagles share common traits that make them well-equipped for their roles as aerial hunters and meat eaters. Their vision is up to 4-5 times sharper than humans, with extra concentration of photoreceptors in their eyes allowing them to spot small prey from distances up to a mile away (Audubon).

Their large, curved beaks are designed for ripping and tearing meat, with the upper bill tipped downward over the lower bill to create a knife-like edge.

With hooked beaks and sharp talons, eagles are physically adapted for hunting

In addition to excellent vision and carnivorous beaks, eagles have other physical attributes specialized for hunting:

  • Sharp talons – Their claws are designed to swiftly grab prey in flight or on the ground.
  • Broad wingspan – With wingspans over 7 feet wide, eagles can propel through the air and maneuver deftly in pursuit of prey.
  • Keen sense of hearing – Eagles can pinpoint faint rustling noises indicating prey on the landscape below.

These raptor features allow eagles to thrive as powerful carnivores and reach speeds over 100 mph diving for prey. Their talons can exert 500-700 psi, giving them an iron grip to snatch up animals as large as mountain goats.

Their excellent eyesight helps them spot prey from afar

With such superior vision compared to humans and other animal groups, spotting prey animals from great heights or distances comes naturally to eagles.

Species Estimated Visual Acuity
Humans 20/20 vision
Bald eagles 20/5 vision
Golden eagles 20/4 vision

This extreme visual clarity helps eagles identify tiny prey animals and movements from great aerial distances. Their telescopic sight ensures hunting success and survival as obligate carnivores.

What Eagles Eat

Fish are a primary food source for eagles near water

Eagles that live near oceans, lakes, and rivers feast on fish that swim in the waters below their nests. The bald eagle is renowned for catching salmon, but they also eat other fish like herring, catfish, trout, bass, and perch.

The African fish eagle lives up to its name, catching massive Nile perch that can weigh over 55 pounds! Eagles use their incredible vision to spot fish swimming near the surface. Then they swoop down at speeds over 100 mph, snatching the fish out of the water with their powerful talons.

Eagles consume 1-2 pounds of fish each day. Piscivorous (fish-eating) eagles play a vital role as top predators in aquatic ecosystems.

Small mammals like rabbits or squirrels are key prey

Inland eagles that live far from major water sources have adapted to hunting small land mammals. A favorite snack is rabbits, which eagles can spot hopping through open meadows from a soaring height of 1000 feet.

Squirrels, prairie dogs, raccoons, and skunks also provide nutrients for eagles in woodland habitats. These nimble raptors even snatch up house cats and small dogs that wander too far from home! Eagles supplement their mammal diet with snacks like snakes, lizards, amphibians, and large insects.

A medium-sized golden eagle eats around 0.25 pounds of prey each day. Hunting small mammals provides essential sustenance for eagles inhabiting remote forests and deserts.

Some larger eagle species hunt deer and mountain goats

The largest eagle species like the Steller’s sea eagle and Philippine eagle are powerful enough to prey on ungulates (hoofed mammals). These massive raptors attack deer, reindeer, mountain goats, and sheep. They target younger, weaker individuals but have been known to take down adults in some cases.

Eagles knockout their heavy prey with a bone-crushing strike from their talons. Then they rip into the carcass with their large beak designed for tearing flesh. The Steller’s sea eagle, which weighs up to 20 pounds, can gorge itself on a 60-pound deer for several days.

Taking down bigger game allows these mega-eagles to thrive on remote islands with limited small mammal populations.

Carrion from already dead animals provides easy meals

Eagles are opportunistic predators and frequently dine on carrion from animals that died from other causes. They may locate carcasses by sight or by following other scavengers like vultures and coyotes to the prize.

Rotting meat may not be the freshest fare, but it provides an easy meal when hunting proves difficult. Bald eagles are notorious for stealing fish or prey already captured by other animals. They aggressively harass ospreys until they drop their hard-earned catch!

Dumping uneaten scraps from human activities also draws in scavenging eagles. With a versatile palate and iron-clad digestive system, eagles can feast on carrion to supplement their diet.

How Eagles Hunt and Capture Prey

Powerful talons allow eagles to snatch up fish and small mammals

Eagles have large, curved talons that can apply over 400 psi of pressure, enabling them to swiftly grab slippery fish or furry rodents right out of the water or off the ground (Audubon). Their razor-sharp claws and muscular legs let them snatch prey weighing over 4 pounds while in flight.

Many species like the bald eagle are opportunistic hunters, scanning the landscape for easy meals like fish forced to the surface or squirrels off their guard.

Larger prey are knocked down with forceful impact from an eagle’s body

When targeting larger quarry like fawns or foxes, eagles may swoop down at speeds over 100 mph and hammer into their target with their sturdy chest. They knock prey over with the brute force, then immediately strike with their talons to dispatch the stunned animal (Ocean Conservancy).

This blow can break bones or induce paralysis to incapacitate mammalian prey. Pairs of eagles may also perform tandem knockdown strikes on very large prey like deer calves.

Cooperative hunting provides an advantage with large prey

Some species like the crowned eagle are cooperative hunters, working and communally nesting in pairs or small groups for greater efficiency. One raptor may stir prey from cover while another ambushes it from above.

Studies have observed successful group hunts on formidable prey like monitor lizards and hyraxes almost as heavy as the eagles themselves (PLOS One). Coordinating attacks prevents escape and exhausts dangerous prey until the eagles can move in safely for the kill.

Carrion is easily spotted and consumed by soaring eagles

Eagles spend hours a day gliding on thermal wind columns, scouring vast hunting ranges up to 200 square miles in size from their aerial vantage point. Their telescopic vision can spot carcasses Camry-sized and smaller from over a mile off (USFWS).

They may opportunistically feast on carrion from other predators’ kills when fresh meat becomes available. Bald and golden eagles even steal prey from smaller raptors through direct harassment, consuming up to 50% carrion in winter when hunting is more difficult (The Auk).

Unique Eagle Adaptations for Eating Meat

Hooked upper beaks efficiently tear flesh

Eagles have sharp, hooked upper beaks that are perfectly designed for ripping into flesh. The tip of the beak is razor sharp and can pierce even the toughest hides (US Fish and Wildlife Service). The hooked shape allows eagles to grip flesh tightly between the upper and lower mandible and tear long strips with a shook of the head.

Eagles routinely use their beaks to cut through skin, fat, muscle, and even bone. The hooked shape helps them efficiently rip meat from carcasses.

Strong stomach acid digests bone and meat

In addition to sharp beaks, eagles have extremely acidic stomachs that allow them to digest even bones (Audubon). The pH of an eagle’s stomach acid is about 1-2, which is 10 times more acidic than the stomach acid of humans!

This potent acid quickly breaks down fat, muscle, cartilage, and bone into an easily digestible slurry. The strong stomach acid allows eagles to fully process and absorb nutrients from the meat and bones they ingest.

Carnassial teeth help rip and shear meat

Along with a sharp beak, eagles have carnassial teeth designed for slicing through meat and sinew (Audubon). Carnassial teeth work like serrated steak knives, with sharp edges that help shear and cut flesh.

The carnassials are located along the inside edges of the beak and work in coordination with the beak’s hook to efficiently slice meat from carcasses. Without carnassial teeth, eagles would have a much harder time ripping meat after the initial puncture with the beak tip.

Powerful legs hold prey in place for eating

Another key adaptation that aids eagles in eating meat is their powerful legs and razor-sharp talons. Eagles use their talons to secure prey while they tear off pieces of flesh with their beaks. The front toes of eagles exert an incredible gripping force of 400-500 psi, enabling them to keep a firm hold on large animals while feeding (US Fish and Wildlife Service).

Eagles will often start by digging into the soft belly of their prey, opening up the body cavity to access nutrient-rich organs. Without their vice-like talons, eagles would have a hard time holding prey still for feeding.


As we’ve explored, eagles are obligate carnivores perfectly adapted for hunting and consuming meat. With their keen eyesight, deadly talons, hooked beaks and overall physical prowess, eagles are consummate predators of the sky.

Understanding eagles’ dietary habits provides a glimpse into how these impressive raptors have thrived across habitats worldwide. Whether hunting fish, small mammals or even larger prey, eagles’ carnivorous nature allows them to be aerial apex predators.

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