|Eagles are large birds of prey which mainly inhabit Eurasia and Africa. Outside this area, just two species (the Bald and Golden Eagles) are found in North America north of Mexico, with a few more species in Central and South America, and three in Australia.
They are members of the bird order Falconiformes (or Accipitriformes, according to alternative classification schemes), family Accipitridae, and belong to several genera which are not necessarily closely related to each other in any sort of way.
Eagles are differentiated from other birds of prey mainly by their larger size, more powerful build, and heavier head and bill. Even the smallest eagles, like the Booted Eagle (which is comparable in size to a Common Buzzard or Red-tailed Hawk), have relatively longer and more evenly broad wings, and more direct, faster flight. Most eagles are larger than any other raptors apart from the vultures.
Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large powerful hooked beaks for tearing flesh from their prey, strong legs, and powerful talons. They also have extremely keen eyesight to enable them to spot potential prey from a very long distance. This keen eyesight is primarily contributed by their extremely large pupils which cause minimal diffraction (scattering) of the incoming light.
In Britain before 1678, Eagle referred specifically to the Golden Eagle, the other native species, the White-tailed Eagle, being known as the Erne. The modern name "Golden Eagle" for Aquila chrysaetos was introduced by the naturalist John Ray.
Eagles build their nests, called eyries, in tall trees or on high cliffs. Many species lay two eggs, but the older, larger chick frequently kills its younger sibling once it has hatched.
Eagles are sometimes used in falconry. They appear prominently in myth and literature. In the Old World, such references are commonly to the Golden Eagle (or possibly closely related species found in warmer climates).
Overall, scientists recognize four groups of eagles: The world's 12 species of "serpent eagles" (also called "snake-eagles") typically perch on trees and feed on snakes, frogs, and lizards. The six buzzard-like eagles are forest-dwelling giants, such as the Harpy and Philippine eagles, and prey on large mammals like deer.
The thirty "booted" eagles, so-called because feathers grow down the legs and cover the toes, include the widest-ranging eagle of them all: the Golden Eagle, which is found around the world and has learned to feast on an assortment of prey. In Greece, Golden Eagles even eat turtles, dropping them from great heights onto rocks to break open their armored shells. The eleven sea eagles, which include America's beloved Bald Eagle, tend to specialize in eating fish and water birds -- some even hunt flamingoes and poisonous sea snakes.
Major new research into eagle taxonomy suggests that the important genera Aquila and Hieraaetus are not composed of nearest relatives, and it is likely that a reclassification of these genera will soon take place, with some species being moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus.
- Bonelli's Eagle, the Booted Eagle and the Little Eagle have been moved from Hieraaetus to Aquila.
- Either the Greater Spotted Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle should move from Aquila to join the Long-crested Eagle in Lophaetus, or, perhaps better, all three of these species should move to Ictinaetus with the Black Eagle.
- The Steppe Eagle and Tawny Eagle, once thought to be conspecific, are not even each other's nearest relatives.
- Subfamily Buteoninae - hawks (buzzards), true eagles and sea-eagles
- Genus Geranoaetus
- Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Geranoaetus melanoleucus
- Genus Harpyhaliaetus
- Crowned Solitary Eagle, Harpyhaliaetus coronatus
- Solitary Eagle, H. solitarius
- Genus Morphnus
- Crested Eagle, Morphnus guianensis
- Genus Harpia
- Harpy Eagle, Harpia harpyja
- Genus Pithecophaga
- Philippine Eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi
- Genus Harpyopsis
- New Guinea Eagle, Harpyopsis novaeguineae
- Genus Oroaetus
- Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Oroaetus isidori
- Genus Spizaetus
- Cassin's Hawk-eagle, Spizaetus africanus
- Changeable Hawk-eagle, S. cirrhatus
- Mountain Hawk-eagle, S. nipalensis
- Blyth's Hawk-eagle, S. alboniger
- Javan Hawk-eagle, S. bartelsi
- Sulawesi Hawk-eagle, S. lanceolatus
- Philippine Hawk-eagle, S. philippensis
- Wallace's Hawk-eagle, S. nanus
- Black Hawk-eagle, S. tyrannus
- Ornate Hawk-eagle, S. ornatus
- Black-and-white Hawk-eagle, S. melanoleucus
- Genus Lophaetus
- Long-crested Eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis - possibly belongs in Ictinaetus
- Genus Stephanoaetus
- Crowned Hawk-eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus
- Genus Polemaetus
- Martial Eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus
- Genus Hieraaetus
- Ayres' Hawk-eagle, Hieraaetus ayresii
- Rufous-bellied Eagle, H. kienerii
- African Hawk Eagle, H. spilogaster
- Genus Harpagornis (extinct)
- Haast's Eagle, Harpagornis moorei - possibly belongs in either Hieraaetus or Aquila
- Genus Aquila
- Bonelli's Eagle, Aquila fasciata - formerly Hieraaetus fasciatus
- Booted Eagle, A. pennata - formerly Hieraaetus pennatus
- Little Eagle, A. morphnoides
- Golden Eagle, A. chrysaetos
- Eastern Imperial Eagle, A. heliaca
- Spanish Imperial Eagle A. adalberti
- Steppe Eagle, A. nipalensis
- Tawny Eagle, A. rapax
- Greater Spotted Eagle, A. clanga - to be moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus
- Lesser Spotted Eagle, A. pomarina - to be moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus
- Indian Spotted Eagle, A. hastata - to be moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus
- Verreaux's Eagle, A. verreauxii
- Gurney's Eagle, A. gurneyi
- Wahlberg's Eagle, A. wahlbergi
- Wedge-tailed Eagle, A. audax
- Genus Ictinaetus
- Black Eagle, Ictinaetus malayensis
- Genus Haliaeetus
- White-tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla
- Bald Eagle, H. leucocephalus
- Steller's Sea-eagle, H. pelagicus
- African Fish-eagle, H. vocifer
- White-bellied Sea-eagle, H. leucogaster
- Sanford's Fish-eagle, H. sanfordi
- Madagascar Fish-eagle, H. vociferoides
- Pallas' Sea-eagle, H. leucoryphus
- Genus Ichthyophaga
- Lesser Fish-eagle, Ichthyophaga humilis
- Grey-headed Fish-eagle, I. ichthyaetus
- Subfamily Circaetinae: snake-eagles
- Genus Terathopius
- Bateleur, Terathopius ecaudatus
- Genus Circaetus
- Short-toed Eagle, Circaetus gallicus
- Black-chested Snake-eagle, C. pectoralis
- Brown Snake-eagle, C. cinereus
- Fasciated Snake-eagle, C. fasciolatus
- Banded Snake-eagle, C. cinerascens
- Genus Spilornis
- Crested Serpent-eagle, Spilornis cheela
- Nicobar Serpent-eagle, S. minimus
- Mountain Serpent-eagle,S. kinabaluensis
- Sulawesi Serpent-eagle, S. rufipectus
- Philippine Serpent-eagle, S. holospilus
- Andaman Serpent-eagle, S. elgini
- Genus Eutriorchis
- Madagascar Serpent-eagle, Eutriorchis astur
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Falconiformes
- Family: Accipitridae
The modern English name of the bird is derived from the Latin term aquila by way of the French Aigle. The Latin aquila may derive from the word aquilus, meaning dark-colored, swarthy, or blackish, as a description of the eagle's plumage; or from Aquilo, the Latin version of Greek Boreas, or north wind.
Old English used the term Earn, related to Scandinavia's ěrn / Írn. The etymology of this word is related to Greek ornos, literally meaning "bird". In this sense, the Eagle is the Bird with a capital B.