Chosen as the national bird of the United States by Congress in 1782, the Bald Eagle is a symbol of strength, due to its impressive size and dominating stature. Urban legends tell of kids and pet dogs being carried off by these giant raptors.
Join us as we take a look at whether this is even physically possible, and answer the question of just how big are Bald Eagles?
With a maximum wingspan of 2.44 m (88 in) and a top weight of 6.3 kg (14 lb), Bald Eagles are undeniably giants of the raptor world. Females are larger and heavier than males, and size varies according to geographical location. The largest Bald Eagles are native to northern regions, such as Alaska.
A sea eagle, the iconic Bald Eagle is an imposing sight in the skies above rivers, lakes and coastal areas as well as further inland, from Canada, throughout the United States and into Mexico.
Similar in size to Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles range in wingspan from 165 to 244 cm (66 to 96 in) and in mass from 2 to 6.3 kg (5 to 14 lb).
A breathtaking sight soaring on thermals with its enormous outspread wings, it is not always easy to distinguish between a Golden Eagle and a Bald Eagle. But exactly how do Bald Eagles measure up against other gigantic raptors and birds of prey?
Read on to learn more about all the vital statistics of one of America’s most formidable birds.
Bald Eagles are very large birds of prey
The wingspan of a Bald Eagle falls in the range of 165 to 244 cm (66 to 96 in). Females are larger than males, and the overall size of birds varies according to geographical location.
There are two subspecies of Bald Eagle:
Bald Eagles that are native to Alaska are typically larger and heavier than those found in Florida. However, for records of weights and measurements, no distinction is made between the two subspecies.
A Bald Eagle’s broad wings have spaces between the feathers, an adaptation that enables them to soar and glide on thermals. This allows them to conserve energy when flying, rather than needing to flap their giant wings.
A Bald Eagle’s wings are adapted for efficient flight, to cope with both gliding over land and soaring over water.
Female Bald Eagles are on average 25 percent larger than males. The range across all species is 2 to 6.3 kg (5 to 14 lb).
In terms of size, a Bald Eagle can reach over 90 cm (3 ft) tall, at least half the height of an average human. An average adult male is around 5 ft 9 in ( 175 cm), which is several inches shorter than even the lowest ranges of wingspan measurements for a Bald Eagle.
In terms of weight, humans are naturally significantly heavier, with adult males weighing on average 80 kg (180 lb), which is around 13 times more than the heaviest Bald Eagles.
A Bald Eagle perched on a log in British Columbia
The biggest Bald Eagles are found in Alaska, where individual birds are reported to have weighed in at 7.7 kg (17 lb), with wingspans of up to 244 cm (96 in).
The heaviest animal recorded to have been picked up and carried by a bald eagle is a mule deer, weighing 6.8 kg (15 lb). Smaller animals that are commonly reported to have been snatched by Bald Eagles are family pets, such as cats and dogs that wander freely in backyards.
Bald Eagles can typically lift between 4 and 6 kg (8.8 to 13 lb), but sometimes misjudge how heavy their prey will be and struggle to carry off heavier mammals and fish.
Alaskan Bald Eagles have been observed to have caught large wild salmon that are beyond their carrying capabilities, and then needed to swim to shore with their prey instead.
Bald eagle is perched on a large branch in north Idaho
Bald Eagles are what is known as an apex predator, at the top of their food chain and with no natural predators, and although they do occasionally cross paths with another giant among raptors, the Golden Eagle, the two do not hunt each other.
A Bald Eagle’s vast wingspan allows them to both soar over water and glide over land, and their huge overall size and strength enables them to hunt and carry off larger prey items.
Having such a wide wingspan allows a Bald Eagle to use thermal air currents to soar through the air while looking for prey. This adaptation ensures as little energy as possible is wasted by flapping its wings.
The large wingspan of a Bald Eagle, allows them to easily soar high in the sky
In the United States, only California condors and American White pelicans have a wider maximum wingspan than Bald Eagles, measuring 300 cm (118 in).
The largest eagle species in the world is the Steller’s Sea Eagle, found in Russia, Korea and Japan. It weighs in at an impressive 5-9 kg (11 to 20 lb) and has a wingspan of 220 to 245 cm (86 to 96 in), only a cm wider than that of the largest female Bald Eagles.
Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are very similar in size, with Golden Eagles being marginally longer in length than Bald Eagles at the top end of their range. Golden Eagles have a higher maximum recorded weight than Bald Eagles, but Bald Eagles’ wingspan range reaches a slightly greater breadth.
Turkey vultures are known for their vast wingspan, but the measurements show that they are no rivals for Bald Eagles in terms of size. A maximum wingspan measurement of a Turkey vulture reaches around 6 ft, at least a foot shorter than that of an average Bald Eagle. Bald Eagles also dwarf Turkey vultures in terms of weight and height.
Bald Eagle snatching a fish from the water
Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles are two of North America’s largest raptors, and are fairly similar in size, with an overlap between the average weight and wingspans of the species.
In both species, females can be up to 25 percent larger than males, so theoretically a female Bald Eagle could be bigger than a male Golden Eagle, a female Golden Eagle may well be larger in size than a male Bald Eagle.
The average length for a Golden Eagle is between 70 to 99 cm, compared to 71 to 96 cm for a Bald Eagle. In terms of wingspan, a Golden Eagle’s measures between 185 to 222 cm, while a Bald Eagle’s wingspan has a wider range of variation, between 165 to 244 cm (66 to 96 in).
Golden Eagles weigh between 2.3 and 6.4 kg (5 to 14.1 lb), with Bald Eagles having an average weight of anything between 3 and 6.3 kg (6 to 14 lb).
A pair of bald eagles - one coming in to land on the branch
As a rule, a Bald Eagle can lift the equivalent to around half of its own body weight. As the typical weight of an adult human is at least 10 to 12 times greater than the body weight of a Bald Eagle, a human being carried off the ground by even the largest Bald Eagle would be impossible.
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