Eagle, common name for a number of diurnal birds of prey, some of which are the largest members
of their family which also includes kites, hawks, buzzards, and certain vultures. The name eagle is
somewhat loosely applied, as several of the groups are not particularly closely related to one
another, and some birds called hawks are larger than some called eagles.

The golden eagle is distributed through most of the northern hemisphere. This is the eagle that
has been regarded from ancient times as a symbol of courage and power because of its large size,
superb aerial skills, and the inaccessibility of many of its nest sites, in wild and mountainous
country. In Roman myths this eagle is associated with the principal deity, Jupiter. It was the
emblem of certain Roman legions, of France under the Bonapartes, of Germany, and of the Russian
In North America the golden eagle occurs as far south as Mexico, but it is most common in the
mountainous areas of the western United States and Canada; east of the Mississippi it is relatively
rare. Females attain a length of about 1 m (about 3 ft) from the tip of the beak to the tip of the
tail, and have a wingspread of about 2 m (about 7 ft). Males are smaller, as is true for most of the
birds of prey. A characteristic of the genus is the feathering of the legs down to the toes; in
other eagles the lower part of the leg is bare and scaled, as in most birds. The body plumage is
dark brown, with a distinct golden wash over the back of the head and neck, giving the species
its name. The tail of adults is brown with several indistinct pale bands; that of immature birds is
white with a dark brown terminal band.

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Most golden eagle nests are placed on cliff ledges, but in some areas large trees are preferred.

The nest is large and coarse, built of sticks and twigs. The same nest is used from year to year,
and the birds add more sticks, so that the nest may eventually be as much as 1.8 m (6 ft) in
diameter and 1.5 m (5 ft) high. The usual number of eggs is two, often only one, and occasionally
three. They are heavily marked with blotches and spots of various shades of brown. The diet of
this species consists mainly of mammals, ranging in size from mice to deer. Birds are taken most
often in the breeding season to provide tender food for the young. If live food is in short supply,
There are eight other species in the golden eagle’s genus, all in Eurasia. The smallest is the lesser
spotted eagle, with a wingspan of about 1.5 m (about 5 ft); it migrates from central Europe to as
far south as South Africa. The largest is the wedge-tailed eagle of Australia, a mostly black bird
with a wingspan of as much as 2.5 m (about 8.2 ft).

The sea eagle, or erne, is not closely related to golden eagles, but rather is probably related to
certain vultures. Its lower legs are unfeathered and its bright yellow bill is longer and heavier than
the gray bill of golden eagles. Sea eagles inhabit coastal regions and the vicinity of lakes and
streams, and feed heavily but not exclusively on fish. The bald eagle, the national bird of the
United States, is a member of this group. It ranges widely in North America, from Alaska to Florida,
with the largest individuals coming from the northern parts of the range. After the breeding season
the northern birds migrate south, whereas many Florida eagles wander northward. The name bald,
often thought to be a misnomer, does not imply a lack of feathers, but is derived from an obsolete
word meaning marked with white, as in piebald. Young birds of this species lack the white head
and tail of the adults, which take four to five years to attain. Compared to other eagles, the bald
eagle is a relatively clumsy hunter and fisher, and for its prey relies heavily on dead or injured fish,
or those that come to shallow water to


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