Eagles are some of the most powerful birds, using their sharp talons and keen eyesight to swoop down and snatch up prey. Their impressive strength leads many to wonder – just how much can these raptors lift into the air?

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: An eagle can pick up and fly with about 4-8 pounds. Their actual carrying capacity depends on the size and species of eagle.

In this detailed guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about eagles’ lifting abilities, including:

– The factors that determine how much eagles can carry while flying

– Weight carrying records for different eagle species

– How their grip strength and wing size allow them to pick up heavy loads

– Interesting examples of large prey or objects eagles have been documented carrying

– The mechanics of how these raptors fly with such heavy cargo

Key Factors That Allow Eagles To Lift Heavy Weights

Wing Size

Eagles have exceptionally large wings compared to their body size, which gives them a high wing loading ratio and allows them to generate the lift and thrust needed to carry heavy prey items. An eagle’s wings can span up to 7 feet from tip to tip, providing a massive surface area to help create lift.

The larger the wings, the more air an eagle can push downwards to generate upward thrust. According to one scientific study, bald eagles have enough power in their wings to carry loads weighing over 9 pounds.

The broad width and length of an eagle’s wings are key adaptations that enable the bird to lift sizable prey.

Foot and Leg Strength

An eagle’s feet and sharp talons are also critically important when carrying heavy loads in flight. Eagles have incredibly strong legs and feet adapted for locking onto prey and maintaining a firm grip in midair. The feet consist of three front toes and one back toe, with each toe ending in a hooked, dagger-like talon up to 5 inches long.

These powerful talons can exert 500 psi of gripping force, giving eagles the strength to pierce prey hide and keep hold of animals weighing 10-15 pounds while airborne. Eagles also have rough pads on the bottom of their feet to help provide further traction.

The robust feet and leg muscles generate enough force to securely bind prey in flight without fatiguing. So an eagle’s foot strength matches its mighty wings in allowing the bird to lift sizable animals off the ground.

In addition to huge wings and muscular feet, other anatomical adaptations help eagles carry heavy loads. Eagles have a large keel on their sternum where flight muscles attach to provide power to the wings. Their hollow, lightweight bones reduce body weight making flight easier.

Eagles also position prey strategically, carrying items in a headwind and toward the front of their bodies to improve stability and balance in flight. So an eagle’s entire body structure evolves to enable the raptor to utilize its massive wings and carry off prey weighing many times more than its own body weight.

Carrying Capacity Records of Different Eagle Species

Bald Eagles

Bald eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in North America. An adult bald eagle can lift about 4-5 pounds on average. The largest bald eagle on record was captured in Alaska with a wingspan of 8 feet!

Given their large size and powerful talons, these majestic birds can carry some surprisingly heavy loads.

There are several records of bald eagles carrying impressive weights. One report described a bald eagle carrying a 6.8 pound salmon. Another observed a bald eagle flying with a 6.9 pound mule deer fawn clutched in its talons.

The heaviest item carried by a bald eagle on record was a 15 pound mule deer carcass.

Golden Eagles

The golden eagle is one of the most powerful birds of prey in the world. On average, these eagles can carry between 4-8 pounds safely depending on the size and age of the bird. However, there are some remarkable records of golden eagles carrying very heavy loads.

One account described a golden eagle carrying off a mountain goat kid weighing 28 pounds! Another reported a golden eagle flying with a 15 pound fox clutched in its deadly talons. The heaviest reliable record is of a golden eagle lifting a 35 pound mule deer fawn, an impressive display of aerial strength.

African Crowned Eagles

The African crowned eagle is Africa’s most powerful bird of prey. These massive raptors can weigh up to 20 pounds, with females being larger than males. Researchers estimate that these eagles can lift prey weighing at least their own body weight.

There are several records of these eagles taking large prey. One account describes an African crowned eagle taking a 34 pound duiker (a small antelope). Another recorded this mighty hunter carrying off a 27 pound monkey.

The heaviest item carried was a 37 pound antelope fawn clutched in the crowned eagle’s deadly talons.

Harpy Eagles

The harpy eagle is one of the world’s largest and most powerful eagles. These enormous birds of prey have been known to hunt large sloths and monkeys up to 17 pounds! Harpy eagles can lift more than three-quarters of their own body weight.

Field researchers have recorded harpy eagles carrying a 17 pound howler monkey and a 20 pound sloth. The largest verified prey item taken by a harpy eagle was a male howler monkey weighing in at an impressive 22 pounds!

This demonstrates the tremendous strength and carrying capacity of these apex avian hunters.

Prey Size and Examples of Large Carry Weights

Eagles are powerful birds of prey capable of taking down animals much larger than themselves. Their strength and flight capabilities allow them to carry impressive loads through the air. Here we’ll look at some examples of the maximum weights eagles have been documented carrying.

Deer Fawns

One of the largest prey items an eagle can lift is a newborn deer or antelope fawn. These can weigh between 4-8 pounds at birth. While a fawn this size would be challenging for an eagle to carry, there are confirmed cases of golden and bald eagles flying off with fawns.

Lambs and Piglets

Both bald and golden eagles have been observed preying on lambs and piglets, likely targeting the smallest, youngest ones they can lift. Newborn lambs often weigh between 5-8 pounds, while piglets range from just 1-2 lbs at birth up to 10+ lbs as they mature.

An eagle carrying even a 2-3 lb piglet would be an impressive feat.

Large Fish

One eagle’s preferred prey that often reaches impressive weights are large fish. Eagles frequent waterways and coastlines searching for fish. Some fully-grown fish can exceed 10+ lbs, though the eagle’s carrying capacity would depend on the fish’s size and shape.

There are documented cases of eagles carrying 6-8 lb fish, with unconfirmed reports of even larger ones.

Other Large Prey

In addition to fawns and domestic livestock, eagles have been recorded preying on other surprisingly heavy animals. Some examples include fox kits weighing up to 4 lbs, and even fully-grown red hare leverets at 3+ lbs.

One record from 1937 claimed a golden eagle carried off a mountain goat kid weighing around 15 lbs, though this claim is unverified.

In terms of absolute maximum carry capacity, the largest credible record is a 15 lb mountain goat kid. However, more typical prey weights tend to fall in the range of 2-8 lbs. Eagles over 10 lbs themselves may be able to lift slightly heavier animals, while smaller eagles would struggle carrying over 6 lbs.

Flight Mechanics With Heavy Loads


When an eagle takes flight with a heavy load clutched in its talons, it must exert more power and effort to become airborne. With the added weight, the bird’s initial jump into the air from a standing or perched position takes greater impetus.

The wings must beat harder and faster to create the lift necessary to get aloft while carrying the extra load. Taking off requires the eagle to generate the maximum power and thrust its body can produce in order to overcome the pull of gravity.

Once in the air, gaining altitude with a heavy load also takes more work. The eagle may need to laboriously flap its wings for a greater number of wingbeats before it can clear treetops or reach a desired height.

According to raptor experts, a bald eagle can comfortably lift about 4 to 6 pounds. However, there are documented cases of bald eagles carrying loads of over 10 pounds, with the record being a 15 pound mule deer fawn carried by a female eagle in Alaska!

For an eagle to lift heavier weight loads requires not just strong muscles but also keen technique, timing, and judgment to coordinate takeoff. The eagle sizes up factors like wind speed, terrain, and altitude of perch site to maximize its effort and generate enough lift.

It may also need to run or hop some distance across the ground before lifting off to help build momentum.

In-Flight Maneuverability

An eagle’s ability to maneuver in flight is also affected when carrying heavy loads. The increased weight impacts aerial agility and speed. An eagle labors harder to make turns, pitch and roll motions, and climbs. A heavy load compromises the raptor’s flying performance overall.

There is greater drag, and the bird’s reaction time decreases. However, eagles are adept at compensating through wing position adjustments and timing wingbeats for stability. The large surface area and slotted wing design provide lift even at slower speeds when carrying burdens.

Eagles may opt for a shallower glide slope to manage a heavy cargo coming in for a landing.

While labored, cargo flight is still impressive. An article in ScienceBlogs notes an instance of a bald eagle carrying a 6.8 kg mule deer fawn for 198 meters at a speed of 11.2 m/s, achieving a feat of around 2.9 horsepower.

The raptor’s specialized physiology and flight muscles allow it to transport game and nest building material that would be impossible for most bird species. However, the eagle needs favorable conditions to maximize performance with heavy loads.

And it must balance carrying capacity with the agility needed for hunting and survival.


With their sharp grips and broadly built wings, eagles are impressively equipped to lift off with heavy cargo like large prey animals or other awkward objects. Understanding the dynamics of load carrying helps highlight what remarkable aerial predators these raptors truly are.

While an eagle’s typical carrying capacity ranges from just 4-8 pounds depending on its size, extraordinary examples show them lifting up to 15 pounds or more. Through evaluating wingspan, leg strength, species differences and flight mechanics, we gain more insight into eagles’ outstanding strength and flight capabilities when hauling heavy weights.

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