The New International Encyclopædia/Eagle

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EAGLE (OF. egle, aigle, Fr. aigle, It. aquila, from Lat. aquila, eagle, from aquilus, dark-brown; connected with Gk. ἀχλύς, achlys, mist, darkness, Lith. aklas, blind). Any member of a group of birds of prey, variously defined, but typified by the genus Aquila, which contains the largest and most powerful of the Falconidæ. From the most ancient times the eagle has been universally regarded as the emblem of might and courage; and, like the lion, it has been fancifully invested with other attributes of greatness such as men thought to harmonize with these. Its extraordinary powers of vision, the vast height to which it soars in the sky, the wild grandeur of the scenery amid which it loves to make its abode, and perhaps also its longevity, have concurred to recommend it to poetic regard. It was associated with Jupiter in the Roman mythology, and its figure on the standards of certain Roman legions has descended to the national ensigns of the United States, Germany, Russia, etc.

True eagles have the beak not curved from the very base, like the true falcons, nor notched on the edge; neither are their wings so long in proportion to their size; their legs are very robust, their claws curved, sharp, and strong. In the most restricted use of the generic term Aquila, the true eagles (of which the golden eagle may be taken as a type) have a rather short bill, curved from the cere, with the edge of the upper mandible slightly sinuate, the tarsi short and feathered down to the toes. This last character distinguishes them at once from their nearest allies—the sea-eagles of the genus Haliaëtus. Nine species of true eagles are well distinguished, although in this, as in allied genera, much confusion has arisen from the diversity of plumage at different ages. Only one of them occurs in North America. This is the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaëtus), of which the ‘ring-tailed’ eagle is the young. It is 30 to 35 inches in length, and 6½ to 7 feet in spread of wing; the female is rather larger than the male. The color is dark brown, in some parts almost black; the head and back of the neck in mature birds covered with pointed feathers of a golden-red color; young birds have a considerable part of the tail white; the bright-yellow cere and feet give it its name. The golden eagle is the largest of the European eagles, and is found throughout Europe, Asia (north of the Himalaya), and most of North America. It prefers mountainous districts, and usually only one pair exists within a relatively extensive area. These eagles are rare east of the Mississippi, but are occasionally seen, especially in winter. They build a coarse nest of large sticks on cliffs or rocky ledges in the mountains, and lay two or three eggs, dull white, blotched and speckled with brown. A great quantity of food is required to support a pair of these birds and their two or three young ones; and not only hares, game of every kind, and lambs are carried to the eyrie, but larger animals are sometimes attacked.

The imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) is usually regarded as that from which the Greeks and Romans adopted their symbolism, and ranges from the eastern Mediterranean to China. It is somewhat smaller and darker than the golden eagle, and seems to be less noble in its feeding habits and behavior; indeed an impartial judgment must concede that the eagles do not nearly as well deserve the admirable qualities attributed to them by poetry and romance as do many of the lesser falcons—they are, in truth, not far removed from vultures in either structure or disposition. Much smaller, not exceeding 25 inches in length, are the spotted eagles (Aquila maculata and Aquila clanga) of central and southern Europe: while other less-prominent species are the tawny eagle (Aquila rapax) of Africa, the Indian tawny eagle (Aquila vindhiana) , and the vulturine eagle (Aquila verrcauxi) of South Africa, which is marked by a white rump, and must be distinguished from the eagle-vulture (q.v.). See also Hawk-Eagle.

Sea-Eagles. Next in importance come the sea-eagles or ernes of the genus Haliaëtus, which haunt coasts and large river-courses, and feed mainly upon fish in all parts of the world. Here belongs the American white-headed or ‘bald’ eagle, the national emblem of the United States (Haliaëtus leucocephalus)—an unfortunate choice when its predatory methods are considered. This eagle originally was numerous all over North America, and still survives near the coast, around the Great Lakes, and along the larger rivers in considerable numbers, wherever it is not too ruthlessly persecuted. It is nearly as big as the golden eagle, but is not feathered to the toes, and its head. neck, and tail, after the third year, are perfectly white. It does not migrate, except from the most northerly, ice-bound portions of its range, and is, indeed, a home-keeper, a single pair sometimes occupying the same great nest of sticks, repaired each season, for many years in succession, followed perhaps by their descendants, for nests are known (one is near Cleveland, Ohio) which have not been vacant for nearly a century. Two is the usual number of eggs. This eagle feeds upon fish mainly. For the most part this is picked, dead or dying, from the surface or shore; bald eagles have always abounded in the neighborhood of Niagara Falls, because of the constant supply of fish found there, killed by going over the falls or being caught in the whirlpools below. They also regularly attack fish-hawks, and compel them to drop what they have caught. When fish are not obtainable they eat carrion, or kill small birds and mammals, as do the buzzard-hawks, now and then capturing poultry.

The sea-eagles of the Old World are larger than the bald eagle. The most familiar is the while-tailed erne (Haliaëtus albicilla), now nearly exterminated from Great Britain, except in the far north of Scotland, but a familiar sight on the coasts of the Hebrides, and thence eastward throughout Europe and most of Asia. In Siberia and Kamchatka still greater species are found. Steller's sea eagle, which ranges from China and Japan to the Aleutian Islands, attaining a length of 41 inches—the largest of its tribe. Africa has several species.

Crested and Other Eagles. Members of several allied genera are usually called eagles. A remarkable one is the ‘bataleur’ (Helotarsus ecaudatus) of Africa, whose plumage is most strikingly variegated with maroon, black, and gray, and whose head is covered with large upstanding feathers; its food is mainly snakes and lizards. The buzzard and harrier eagles of the genera Batastur and Circaëtus, whose several species are African and South Asiatic, are also fond of a reptilian diet; while an Oriental genus (Spilornis) of large handsome birds are usually called by natives ‘serpent eagles’ (q.v.); among the most conspicuous of these is the Philippine one (Spilornis holospilus), the whole plumage being brown, spotted with white. Several forms of handsome crested eagles are African and East Indian, and much that is interesting might be related of them and of the hawk-eagles, did space permit. Australia possesses a single and peculiar species in the carrion-feeding wedge-tailed eagle (Uroaëtus audax); and in the fierce tropical harpies (genus Harpyhaliaëtus) South America has representatives of this family almost equaling in size and surpassing in courage and power those of all the rest of the world. See Harpy-Eagle.

The literature relating to eagles is little separated from that of birds generally, as outlined under Bird. For the limited use made of eagles in falconry, where they were counted ‘ignoble,’ see Falconry. See Plate of Eagles and Hawks.


NIE 1905 Eagle - Eagles and Hawks.jpg
1. BALD EAGLE (Haliaetus leucocephalus). 5. OSPREY or FISH HAWK (Pandlon Carollnensis).
  (Falco peregrinus Var. anatum).
  (Archibuteo lagopus Var. Sancti-Johannis).
3. HARPY EAGLE (Thrasaetus harpyia). 7. MARSH HARRIER (Circus Hudsonius).
4. SWALLOW-TAILED KITE (Elanoides forficatus).  8. SPARROW HAWK (Falco sparvenus).