What do bald eagles eat?

What Do Eagles Eat?

The term eagle refers to any of the large birds known as raptors, which are found all over the world except Antarctica. Raptors are birds of prey that hunt other vertebrate animals. Their prey is typically large in comparison to their size, though raptors are typically large for birds. There are many species of eagle, about 60 in total, in a wide array of sizes and colors.

Though they are all carnivorous predators, some have a diet that is more specialized than that of other eagles. The bald eagle, for example, has a diet that consists mainly of fish, though they will also consume waterfowl, small mammals, and even snakes as well. The long-crested eagle’s diet consists almost entirely of rodents.

When they hunt, they may fly over an area in search of food, but more commonly they will find a high vantage point to perch and wait, then swoop down, grasp the prey, and continue flying. It is rare for them to be on the ground and grab prey before taking off.

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There are a few animals that prey on eagle eggs, such as other birds of prey and some small mammals.

What Do Eagles Eat?

Eagles eat squirrels, rabbits, fish, and mice.

In general, eagles tend to be opportunistic eaters. They will feed on the most readily available prey, in other words. That means if rabbits are abundant, their diet will be mainly rabbits. If food is scarce, they may eat carrion. If food is very scarce and they are forced to fly into more populated areas in search of food, very small pets, usually cats or kittens, may wind up on the menu. Puppies may also fall prey to raptors, but this is rare and happens more frequently with hawks than with eagles.

A The Best Nest Boxes Birds Will Actually Use for 2022

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A Complete List of Foods Eagles Eat

  • Fish
  • Waterfowl, such as flamingoes
  • Smaller birds
  • Small mammals, such as rabbits
  • Small ruminants, sucha as antelope and sheep
  • Reptiles, such as turtles and snakes
  • Rodents, such as squirrels
  • Carrion, such as road kill and other dead animals

The eagle diet is vast and spans pretty much all animals. So long as they are classified as vertebrates, and eagles will eat them. Though some of the 60 species prefer one type of animal over others, most types will eat whatever they can catch and fly away with, even if it’s already dead when they find it.

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AZ Animals Staff

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and — of course — pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

Hunting and feeding

The bird relies on surprise attack – ensuing chases rarely succeed. While pairs may hunt co-operatively, it is rare for numbers of birds to congregate at a food source.

Eagle diet is principally mammals and birds, taken both alive and as carrion. Main live prey consists of medium sized mammals and birds such as rabbits, hares, grouse and ptarmigan. The diet of coastal birds includes gulls and other seabirds. Larger items are taken as carrion.

The maximum weight most golden eagles can lift is 4-5kg, hence tales of very large animals or even children being carried away are to be viewed with scepticism.

In the western Highlands of Scotland where live prey is scarce, the eagles depend largely on carrion, especially during the winter months. The average daily food requirement is 250g. After a large meal, an eagle may not need to eat again for several days.

What Do Bald Eagles Eat? (Complete Guide)

What Do Bald Eagles Eat? (Complete Guide)

The iconic Bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782. A powerful and impressive bird with a snowy white-feathered head, Bald eagles are unmistakable creatures. Like most other eagles, Bald eagles are apex predators and sit right at the top of their natural food chain.

As such, these powerful birds have the pick of the bunch when it comes to feeding, so what do Bald eagles eat?

Bald eagles are carnivorous and eat mostly fish and other birds. Mammals make up a small percentage of their usual diet. Bald eagles have been studied to hunt and eat some 400 species, including some large animals like deer fawns. They’re opportunistic predators and will eat both living animals and carrion.

Bald Eagle with fish, captured from a lake.

Bald eagles have exceptionally good eyesight, which is some eight times more powerful than a human’s. Once it spots its prey from high above the ground, a Bald eagle can dive at speeds exceeding 100mph. Prey is ripped and torn apart by gigantic talons, the flesh devoured by the eagle’s powerful beak. By all accounts, Bald eagles are fearsome predators and are amongst the largest eagles in the world.

Read on to discover what Bald eagles eat and other interesting facts about the feeding habits of these awe-inspiring and iconic birds.

What do bald eagles eat in the wild?

Bald eagles are opportunistic carnivorous predators and will hunt most animals that they can confidently target without risking harm to themselves. This includes carrion, which makes an ideal free meal that requires the Bald eagle to expend practically no energy.

Bald eagles are thought to consume some 400 species, consisting primarily of fish (over 50% of their diet on average), birds (25%+ of their diet on average) and mammals (15%+ of their diet on average), the remainder being other prey like lizards.

Bald Eagle swooping for a fish in Alaska

Do bald eagles eat fish?

Bald eagles usually live in freshwater or coastal habitats, and thus, their staple meat is actually fish. Many are surprised to hear that Bald eagles have pescatarian tendencies – they especially love to hunt salmon, catfish and herrings, but will even eat crabs and other crustaceans. Fish are a relatively risk-free target and provide the high saturated fat content that eagles need to thrive.

Absolutely, but they prefer to target birds on the ground rather than in the sky. This makes waterfowl a prime target, but Bald eagles will hunt and eat any bird that presents a valid opportunity.

Profile shot of a bald eagle

Do bald eagles eat snakes?

Yes, and Bald eagles are generally shrewd enough to know what snakes they should or shouldn’t eat. It’d be quite rare for Bald eagles to choose snakes if there are other prey available, though.

Yes, bald eagles consume roadkill and carrion. They are opportunistic hunters and won’t pass up a free meal, regardless of whether it’s dead or alive. Bald eagles are also relatively lazy, which makes roadkill the ideal free meal.

A bald eagle eating a red fox

Do bald eagles eat cats?

Bald eagles have been known to target cats and even small dogs, but this is exceptionally uncommon. Raccoons, squirrels, prairie dogs, rabbits, and hares are all much likelier mammalian prey for Bald eagles.

Absolutely, but whether or not a Bald eagle chooses to target a live animal depends on the risks and likelihood of success.

Bald eagles are shrewd and clever predators; they won’t enter a fight that they’re not almost guaranteed to win. Plus, larger animals will require more energy to kill and eat and may not be worth the energy expenditure.

Bald eagles rely more on surprising their live targets rather than beating them in a race, which requires more energy and effort. They will likely hunt live targets over open ground with fewer hiding places. This is what makes waterfowl and fish in open water a prime target.

Bald Eagle flying with a fish

How do bald eagles hunt?

Bald eagles are skilled hunters that can hover several thousand feet above their territories before swooping in at high speed and surprising their victim. They’re able to spot small movements at well over 1km or even 2km away.

However, Bald eagles are also well-known for their laziness and are often spotted stealing the prey of other animals. Roadkill is a firm favourite of the Bald eagle also as it’s basically a free meal. Bald eagles, like many other raptors, will try to avoid unnecessary energy expenditure when possible.

This is also why Benjamin Franklin was not a fan of the Bald eagle and allegedly wished for the American national bird to be changed to a turkey (later discredited as a myth) – he observed that Bald eagles were generally lazy, immoral hunters that relied on their thieving abilities rather than skill!

Bald Eagle preparing to dive for a fish, hovering high in the sky.

What do bald eagles eat during the winter?

In winter, Bald eagles will lower their energy expenditure and focus primarily on scavenging than hunting. Roadkill is the wintering Bald eagle’s dream, as is the quarry of other predators which the Bald eagle will seek to thieve and steal. A Bald eagle isn’t exactly the kind of animal you’d try and confront and stop in that situation anyway.

Baby bald eagles are fed raw meat from day one. Their parents will tear them small parts of flesh and feed it directly to them. They don’t need to be weaned on regurgitated or soft foods like other birds.

Bald Eagle bringing back a carcass to feed young

What did Benjamin Franklin say about Bald eagles?

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, observed that Bald eagles were lazy and said; “For my own part, I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen as the Representative of our Country.” He argued that Bald eagles would frequently perch on trees and watch the birds of prey hunt, and when they left their catch unattended, the Bald eagle would merely swoop in and steal their meal.

Benjamin Franklin then said then the turkey was a more respectable bird than the Bald Eagle, but did not suggest the turkey replace the Bald eagle as the American emblem as is often claimed. He remarked of the turkey; “He is besides, though a little vain & silly”.

What Do Eagles Eat?

Photo: Jacob Spinks / Flickr

Photo: Jacob Spinks / Flickr

Eagles eat many different kinds of food, such as salmon, catfish, herring, shad, crabs, muskrats, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians and even other birds. The eagle watches its prey and then dives down to grab it with either its talons or beak.

The bald eagle will often eat its food while it is alive or will enjoy it over a period of days. The bald eagle can survive without food for several weeks at a time. The primary staple of the bald eagle’s diet is fish and for this reason, bald eagles try to live as close to a large lake as they can. They also like to live near forested areas, making areas such as the East and West coastlines in the United States ideal habitats.

Photos with Bald Eagle


Bald eagles inhabit a large territory, stretching from northern Mexico to the USA and Canada, thus covering the major part of North America. These birds are partially migratory, depending on location. If their territory has access to open water, the birds remain there year-round, but if the body of water freezes during the winter, making it impossible to obtain food, they migrate to the south or to the coast. During the breeding season, Bald eagles occur in any kind of American wetland habitat such as seacoasts, rivers, large lakes or marshes, or other large bodies of open water with an abundance of fish. They require old-growth and mature stands of coniferous or hardwood trees for perching, roosting, and nesting. They will also nest in mangrove swamps, pinelands, seasonally flooded flatwoods, hardwood swamps, and open prairies and pastureland with scattered tall trees. While wintering, Bald eagles tend to choose open habitats, such as prairies, meadows or tundra, or open forests with regular carrion access.

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