An eagle swoops under to grab a fish. Eagles weigh 8 come 12 pounds and also can carry about three or four pounds. ADF&G photo.

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Every couple of years a story makes the rounds about a fully eagle transporting off a dog or trying to snatch someone’s cat. Biologist who study birds of prey and also folks who live around eagles have seen plenty snatching and also carrying – as well as swooping and swimming – and also they readily available insights into what eagles really can and cannot do.

Bald eagles are strong, wild birds however like every little thing that flies they room governed by aerodynamics. The wings of one eagle have to support the eight come 12-pound bird and also whatever the bird is carrying, and also best estimates put the lifting strength of an eagle at four or 5 pounds. Yet it’s not fairly that simple.

Lift is dependency not just on wing size, yet on airspeed. The quicker a bird (or plane) is flying, the greater the lift potential. An eagle that lands on the coast to grab a fish, and then takes off again, is minimal to a smaller pack than one eagle that swoops down at 20 or 30 miles an hour and snatches up a fish. The momentum and also speed provides the bird the ability to carry an ext weight.

Biologist Ron Clarke earn his masters level studying birds of prey, and also he’s a falconer who trains raptors. He hunts v a gyrfalcon and a peregrine falcon, and said his 45-ounce gyr can lug an 8-ounce bufflehead duck nice easily. “He can"t do the same with a mallard, though,” the said. At around two pounds, a mallard is 4 times the weight of a bufflehead.

Clarke stated an eagle with momentum is a various story.

“On a wide-open beach, I have actually no doubt the an eagle through a full head of vapor could choose up a six- or eight-pound dog and also just store on going,” Clarke said. “If it landing to death a ten-pounder, and then make the efforts to pick up and also fly native a dead stop, can it obtain off the ground? more than likely not.”

Eagles will carry heavier loads a brief distance. Mike Jacobson spent years as an eagle management specialist because that the U.S. Fish and also Wildlife Service and recently retired.

“There provided to be stories about eagles delivering off babies and tiny kids, and none of that has ever before been documented,” the said. “They have the right to pick up and also carry four or 5 pounds, maximum, and also actually fly off through it. They have the right to lift a little more and hop the along, however they can’t carry it off.”

Flying might be one eagle’s birthright, however it requires skill. Falconers and birdwatchers have the right to attest the swooping under to nab dinner, or snatching food turn off the water, requires techniques that are honed through experience. Young predators build their hunting an abilities by trial and error, play, and also testing limits. Young eagles will certainly swoop top top floating bottles, effort to background salmon that space too heavy, and investigate new objects.


“There supplied to be stories about eagles delivering off babies and tiny kids, and also none of that has ever before been documented,” claimed Mike Jacobson, an eagle expert.

Jacobson claimed an immature eagle is most most likely to swoop down on other inappropriate, favor a large dog top top the beach. World then overreact and claim the eagles are searching dogs. “It gets exaggerated” the said. “Eagles nothing hunt cats and tiny dogs.”

The vast majority of eagles’ diet in south east is fish. Jacobson stated in other areas the diet varies more, as eagles take advantage of local opportunities. Eagles that live near seabird swarms will eat an ext birds, and also eagles in the interior take an ext birds and tiny mammals 보다 eagles in Southeast. Jacobson when saw an eagle moving a mink and also he’s heard stories of eagles carrying little muskrats. Eagles in the Aleutians are well-known to food on sea otter pups during pupping season. But fish is the fully eagles’ bread and butter.

Other eagles are a different. Jacobson said golden eagles are very comparable in size and also weight come bald eagles, but they target different prey. “Golden eagles room not bigger or stronger, yet they have an extremely different behavior,” he said.

Although fully eagles don’t actively target cats, Jacobson has actually heard a few stories that seemed plausible. A small cat is definitely within one eagle’s abilities. “Eagles have occasionally nailed people’s cats,” the said. “It’s rare, however people execute see them swoop under on cats sometimes.”

David Hunsaker once discovered a cat collar in an eagle nest. The nest is right external the window of his Tee port home, and also he’s excellent a good deal the eagle watching end the past dozen years. He and his wife watched a pair of eagles construct the nest, and they’ve checked out eagles incubate eggs, provide food and also raise a number of broods that chicks. They’ve watched the chicks grow and fledge.

“The cat collar was funny,” that said. “It had a bell attached to warn birds. It to be still buckled.”

Hunsaker included that the collar no necessarily prove the eagles brought a cat come the nest. Also in the colony was a child’s rattle toy. “I envision that rattle clutched in a chubby fist, yet it’s not likely the eagles recorded a child.”

It’s also possible the cat was a scavenged roadkill. He’s seen fur in the swarm a couple of times, and also a couple of bloody birds, however said the eagles are almost exclusively fish eaters.

“The bulk are herring or smelt, little fish about eight inch long,” that said. He’s checked out plenty of salmon ceded to the nest, commonly in pieces. “They’ll bring half a salmon, commonly a pink, climate take off and come back with what appears to it is in the various other half. So they dismember that somewhere. I’ve never ever seen them lug a complete coho or sockeye, yet pieces.”

Hunsaker doubt the account of eagles taking little dogs not because they couldn’t carry it, but due to the fact that in his observations, eagles are very wary the people. Although the nest is close to the house, the birds don’t roost ~ above the peak of the house, the deck or surrounding power poles. “They room really skittish approximately people,” that said. “They room not going to snatch a dog off a leash, or right in prior of the owner.”


Herring and other small fish space the bread and also butter for bald eagels in coastal ADF&G photo.

Biologist Phil Schempf works for the U. S. Fish and also Wildlife business in raptor and migratory bird management. He has no doubt one eagle might kill a small dog or cat if the chance presented itself, and carry that or at least pieces the it come a nest. “My feeling is that it doesn"t happen an extremely often though,” he created in one e-mail. “I"d speculate the is due to eagles gift leery of approaching human being or foraging in novel locations such as people"s yards. Eagles frequently are foraging along beaches or riparian areas where that is rarely for dogs and cats to it is in unattended by their owners.”

An eagle is sometimes spotted in the water, talons latched ~ above a heavy salmon, laboriously rowing come shore with its wings. The a clumsy swim style, however it works. It’s claimed that the eagle can not let go, that the talons somehow lock on come the fish. That’s no true. There is no involuntary locking mechanism, and the eagle might let go if it wished. The hungry bird has simply determined the meal is worth the swim.

Jacobson stated that end the year there have actually been a variety of observations the eagles grabbing fish and also getting traction underwater. He claimed it’s not because they can’t release their talons, “They have the right to let go,” he said.

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“It’s usual for them to obtain a organize of a fish that’s too heavy to fly with…they can’t take off but they deserve to tow it to shore, rowing with their wings. They’re pretty great swimmers. They have thick down so castle float nice well. Periodically they’ll cancel if lock too much from shore.”

State wildlife biologist wealthy Lowell that Petersburg said it’s not unusual for eagles to end up in the water. His office following door to a fish processing plant overlooks the water and he’s viewed an eagle purposely land top top the water to choose up fish scraps discarded through the workers. He claimed contrary to renowned belief, one eagle can take turn off from the surface of the water as long as it does no sit there as well long and get its wing wet. He added that when eagles can absolutely lock on v their talons, the is a purely voluntary action and they deserve to release in ~ will.

Riley Woodford is a writer for the department of Fish and also Game. He is the editor that Fish and also Wildlife News and also produces the sounds Wild radio program.

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