What Do Eagles Eat
Lots of people want to know: What do bald eagles eat? Those who picture eagles striking rabbits in the manner of a diving hawk are usually surprised to learn that bald eagles are mainly fish eaters. And for that reason, bald eagles almost always nest and live near large bodies of water.
Bald Eagles are sometimes known as American Eagles, since they are recognized worldwide as our nation’s symbol. Whatever you call them, at the forefront of eagle facts is their tremendous eyesight – some of the best in the animal kingdom. If good human eyesight is 20/20, a bald eagle’s eyesight is thought to be about 20/4. For us, that’s like looking through a good pair of binoculars.
An eagle’s keen eyesight helps it to spot fish cruising near the water surface. Sometimes, the eagle hunts in flight, soaring and watching for fish below. But mostly, it sits in treetops along the water, diving from its perch when it spots prey. It’s breathtaking to see an eagle flying and using powerful, hooked talons to pluck unsuspecting fish. For lucky photographers, this makes great eagle pictures and bald eagle flying video. A bald eagle seldom even gets wet as it snatches prey from the water. But surprisingly, if it does plunge in, it can swim well and take flight from the surface.
Besides fish, another important eagle diet item is sick and injured waterfowl. Ducks and geese share bald eagle habitat, relying on the same marshes and reservoirs to help raise their own families. And when wading birds or waterfowl get sick or injured, they’re quickly on the list of what eagles eat. It’s an interesting way that Nature helps keep populations in check, when eagles pick out the weak and the sick for their food, allowing the strong and healthy to live and reproduce. In winter, when northern waters freeze up to make fishing impossible, bald eagles migrate south, following the vast flocks of waterfowl to their winter quarters.
What bald eagles eat includes reptiles, birds, mammals, amphibians – pretty much any opportune food item they find while hunting. But these are incidental compared to fish and waterfowl. And there’s one more surprising twist in what a bald eagle eats: In any season, hungry bald eagles are quick to scavenge dead animals, even fighting over them for food.
What do baby bald eagles eat?
Young eaglets hatch in early spring, usually two and sometimes three per nest. The female adult lays her eggs on different days, incubating so that the eggs hatch in stages. This means that the first hatchling is always bigger than its siblings. And that can spell trouble. When food is plentiful, most hatchlings normally grow into fledglings. But not uncommonly, the biggest eaglet kills its nest mate. Parent eagles make no attempt to stop this when it happens.
For several weeks after hatching, the mother eagle stays at the nest to protect her tiny babies from squirrels and marauding birds. The male eagle brings food to the nest, and the female tears off tiny pieces of meat to feed her offspring. At first, the young eat small amounts. But within days, they develop big appetites and start to grow quickly. An eaglet can gain a pound every four or five days when ample food is available.
Baby bald eagles eat the same menu as adults – fish, waterfowl, and any meat that parents can find to satisfy their voracious young.
It’s increasingly popular to place weatherproof bald eagle webcams or bald eagle nest cams on historic nests to record baby bald eagle activities around the clock. These “eagle cam live” views are often placed on websites sharing bald eagle facts for kids.
By the time young eagles reach three weeks old, both parents must hunt to provision the nest. As the eaglets gain size, most nest predators are no longer a threat. Food is usually dropped off at the nest, where the eaglets fight to get their share. Usually, a variety of prey items decorate the nest so that food is available whenever young eagles get hungry. Watching a young eagle eat large prey is sometimes comical, as the youngster repeatedly “gulps” to swallow a large meal. Sometimes, a tail will protrude from the eaglet’s beak for hours before there is room to get it down.
Adult eagles use food to encourage their young into first flights. For several days prior to fledging, the parents reduce the nest’s food supply. This lightens the young eagles and gets them to flight size. It also makes them very hungry. Then, the parents fly by the nest with prey to “tease” their offspring. This incentive often helps the young birds to overcome fears and take wing for the first time.
Bald eagles – the business of hunting and eating makes them one of our most fascinating wildlife species. Birders eagerly watch them wherever bald eagles live.