There are over sixty known Eagle species distributed on every continent except Antarctica. These graceful and powerful hunters are among the world’s largest birds of prey, with some reaching weights over fifteen pounds. Eagles have been revered by various cultures across the globe for millennia, but are they really dangerous to human beings?
Most people have little to fear from Eagles. The larger species can certainly inflict severe or even life-threatening injuries on human beings, although this is extremely rare. The only time an Eagle is likely to attack is if trapped, cornered, or when its eggs or chicks are threatened.
Eagles have a reputation for being dangerous, and you only have to look at their powerful talons to see why. However, these birds pose little to no threat to humans if left undisturbed. In fact, these majestic birds have a lot more to fear from us than we do from them.
Eagles can tackle surprisingly large prey, and archeological evidence even suggests that they may have preyed on the children of early hominids like Australopithecus africanus. The largest Eagle species still prey on animals over 10lb (4.5 kg), so small pets may be hunted opportunistically in rare cases.
This article separates the facts from the fiction about the danger of Eagle attacks. Read along to learn whether these birds are dangerous to people and what you can do to avoid an attack.
Generally speaking, Eagles don't pose much of a risk to humans, and such attacks are extremely rare
Adult Eagles have few natural predators, but they are well-equipped to defend themselves against their enemies. Continue reading to learn how Eagles protect themselves.
Like all birds, an Eagle’s first line of defense is to escape. Golden Eagles, for example, can reach a speed of 80 miles per hour (129 km/h) in level flight.
But what if an Eagle can’t escape its enemy? Continue reading to learn about the Eagle’s most effective weapons.
If escape is impossible, an Eagle will face its enemy head-on and defend itself with its claws. To do this, the bird may need to lean back, supported by its tail, or lie on its back, supported by its outstretched wings and with its talons extended.
Eagles have four needle-sharp talons (claws) on each foot, which are their most dangerous weapons. They usually use their talons for capturing and killing their prey, but Eagles will not hesitate to use them in self-defense.
Not only are their talons large (over four inches in the Harpy Eagle), but they are wielded with great force. It’s not easy to measure how strong Eagles are, but estimates put the grip strength of the Bald Eagle at an impressive 300 pounds per square inch.
Eagles use their talons to keep their heads and other vulnerable body parts out of harm’s way, but they also have a last resort if their claws aren’t enough to deter their attacker. Eagles have large, sharp beaks that are used for killing and eating their prey. Their bills can open skin and cut through flesh, and a bite could cause a serious injury.
The first line of defence for an Eagle is to fly off
Eagles prefer to flee rather than fight. However, there are circumstances where they can be aggressive.
Eagles will usually only attack if cornered or trapped and unable to escape. However, they may also act aggressively toward predators and people that approach their nest. Some Eagle species also use aggression to intimidate other animals and steal their prey.
Eagles are rarely aggressive toward humans unless provoked. However, unusual attacks on people by young Bald Eagles have been recorded, so you should always treat these birds with the respect they deserve.
Golden Eagle hunting a hare
Eagles can be aggressive toward other birds for a variety of reasons. Keep reading to learn more about Eagle aggression.
Many Eagle species include birds as part of their diet. The American Bald Eagle, for example, regularly feeds on waterfowl, including large species like Snow Geese. These opportunistic hunters even hunt other predators like Great Blue Herons from time to time.
Sometimes the tables turn, and Eagles must use aggression to defend their eggs and chicks against other birds. The following birds are threats to nesting Eagles in the United States:
Many Eagles will steal prey from other birds rather than catch their own. Bald Eagles are well known for their boldness in stealing meals from other birds of prey like Ospreys and Red-tailed Hawks. These aggressive birds will also steal meals from mammals like foxes, otters, and even people.
A pair of Bald Eagles fighting over a fish
Eagle attacks are highly unusual, although documented cases prove they are possible. So how could you protect yourself from an Eagle?
The Eagle’s talons are its most deadly weapon, followed by its beak. In the case of an attack, try to cover the bird's eyes with your clothing and make your escape. If you can’t get away from an attacking Eagle, call for help and try to secure the bird's feet and head to prevent further injuries.
Eagles rarely attack without good reason. Stay calm, assess the possible reasons for the attack, and leave the area if the bird is protecting itself or its nest.
Eagles can be highly territorial, and with such powerful weapons, conflicts can be fatal. They do not usually fight to the death, although they may succumb to their injuries after the fact.
In some cases, Eagles lock their talons in flight and don’t let go until they crash land on the ground below. These crashes are not necessarily fatal, although there are reports of fighting Bald Eagles locking their talons, falling into the water below, and drowning.
A pair of White-tailed eagles fighting
Eagles fear humans and large predatory mammals like wolves and bears, although they are generally fearless around other birds. Healthy Adult Eagles have few predators, although old, sick, or injured individuals are vulnerable to many predators.
Of course, not all Eagles are as large and powerful as well-known species like the Golden Eagle. Some species, like the Booted Eagle of the Old World, are much smaller and have more potential enemies.
Eagles are usually fearful of humans and will avoid encounters, especially in wilderness areas where they are not accustomed to our presence. However, falconers have been taming and keeping Eagles for centuries.
Practitioners of this ancient hunting technique certainly build a close bond with their birds, although calling them friendly might be a stretch.
While most Eagles pose little danger to humans, many larger species could cause significant injuries if they were to attack. The following species regularly hunt large prey and could severely injure a human being:
Harpy Eagles are one of the most impressive-sized eagle species
Eagle attacks are extraordinary occurrences, although a fatal attack on a child in Ethiopia in 2019 was reported in the media. However, people have lived in the same environments as wild Eagles since the dawn of humanity, so such encounters have probably occurred many times.
It is difficult to say just how strong an Eagle's grip strength is, although estimates put their maximum force at around 300 - 400 psi. Eagles are undeniably powerful predators, but they lack the strength and size to crush a human skull.
The largest Eagle species are physically capable of carrying a human infant. However, adults and even children are far too heavy for an Eagle to lift or carry.
Golden Eagles are powerful birds of prey
Eagles rarely attack humans and are not known to target our eyes. However, your eyes would be especially vulnerable to injuries in an attack.
The larger Eagle species could tackle adult house cats, although felines are a risky meal. Pet owners have little to fear from Eagles since attacks on pets are very rare.
Eagles rarely attack dogs, although some large species could take puppies and miniature dog breeds. Canids are not typical Eagle prey, although Mongolian hunters are known for hunting foxes with trained Golden Eagles.
Eagles are capable of hunting and eating human babies, although this rarely (if ever) happens. Of course, babies should not be left unattended near Eagles or any other wild predators.
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