Soaring through the skies worldwide, eagles have dominated their ecosystems. This bird of prey has even prevailed in symbolizing power and focus across cultures. In this article, we will fly with different types of eagles, taking a closer look at their behaviors, distinct appearance, and more. But first, let’s look into the four main types of this bird.
Related Read: Eagle Facts.
These birds of prey, belonging to the Accipitridae family, are as diverse as they're impressive, encompassing around 60 species of eagle2. From the towering cliffs of North America to the sprawling savannahs of Africa, you'll find these avians ruling the skies.
Now, the term eagle tends to be a catch-all for large birds of prey, but these four types contain all the true eagles:
With their muscular body, prominent beaks, and sharp talons ready to snatch, fish eagles swoop into water to catch fish and other aquatic animals. Also called sea eagles, this group includes the well-known Bald Eagles and Steller’s Sea Eagles.
Next, the booted eagle is a smaller but no less impressive bird with its legs covered in feathers like boots. Golden Eagle, Black and Chestnut Eagle, Mountain Hawk Eagle, and Spanish Imperial Eagle are under this type.
Snake eagles, as the name suggests, like hunting reptiles. They have piercing yellow eyes, unfeathered legs, and large beaks. Also called serpent eagles, this group has the Brown Snake Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, and Crested Serpent Eagle.
Finally, harpy eagles are the titans of tropical rainforests. These large birds have feathered legs and a crown of feathers. Some heavyweights from this group are the American Harpy Eagle and the Philippine Eagle.
Related: Read what people have to say about these amazing birds in our compilation of Eagle Quotes.
Our first type of eagle has a deep brown body with a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet. Despite its name, Bald Eagles are not bald. Their head is covered in white feathers, giving them a distinct look. "bald" comes from the Old English word "balde," which means white.
Bald Eagle pairs construct their massive nests, some of which can reach 6 feet in diameter. Besides being loving parents, they are also opportunistic feeders. They gobble on other birds, small mammals, and carrion when their main aquatic diet is scarce.
Being a national bird of America, these sea eagles were on the brink of extinction in the mid-1900s because of hunting and DDT in pesticides.
However, due to collective conservation efforts, specifically the Endangered Species Act, their population rose and remained stable until now.
Steller's Sea Eagle holds the world's title of the heaviest eagle. With an average weight of around 20 pounds, these birds of prey can weigh as much as a small dog! They also have bright orange beaks and wingspan stretching up to 8 feet.
They are common sightings in the coastal areas of northeastern parts of Asia, especially the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. You might also spot a few in Japan and Korea.
Once again, these sea eagles’ main diet is fish, and they grew a liking for salmon and trout. But when fish is scarce, they can eat other birds or small mammals.
Another sea eagle with up to 8 feet wingspan is the White-Tailed Eagle, which resembles a Bald Eagle but has washed-out colors.
This type of eagle likes to spread its wings across Greenland, Russia, and even parts of China. They also once flew across the British Isles but went extinct locally in the early 1900s primarily because of human persecution. After decades of conservation efforts, their population is on an upward trend.
The White-bellied sea eagle has white underparts and heads and a dark grey back, legs, and beak. With wings that stretch up to 7.2 feet, this raptor glides above the coastal regions, rivers, and large lakes of Australia, Southeast Asia, and India.
Moreover, various indigenous tribes in Australia, like the Wreck Bay Village and the Marranunggus, highly rever this type of eagle.
African Fish Eagle has a white head, tail, breast, chestnut abdomens, and darker brown to black wings. It also has a black-tipped yellow beak with its yellow hue spreading around its eyes.
With a wingspan stretching 6 to 8 feet, this eagle is a majestic sight over the lakes, rivers, and coastal lagoons across sub-Saharan Africa. Locals called these sea eagles the “Voice of Africa” for their unique call.
The Grey-headed Fish-eagle is a medium-sized sea eagle with grey heads, brownish-grey bodies, and a white belly and tail base. With a 5.5-foot wingspan, they soar above streams and ponds of South and Southeast Asia3.
Our first booted eagle in this list is the Golden Eagle, characterized by its primarily brown body with hints of gray and golden feathers at the back of its crown, the nape, and the sides of the neck. They also have white feathered tarsis and gray beaks fading to a black tip with yellow cere.
Their wings can stretch to 7 feet in total breadth, which they use to fly across the Northern Hemisphere, from the mountains of Europe to the expansive Asian plains. They even nest in eastern Canada and winter in the Appalachians1.
Golden Eagles are also the fastest among all eagle species. They can clock in at 150-200 mph when diving for prey. That is 40 mph shy of the fastest bird, the Peregrine Falcon.
Related Read: Falcon Facts.
African Hawk Eagles are medium-sized booted eagles with plumages that mix blacks, whites, and grays. These non-migratory birds also have yellow-piercing eyes and yellowish legs.
As their name indicates, they live in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in woodlands, savannas, and forests near rivers.
Unlike its high-soaring cousins, the African Hawk Eagle prefers keeping things close to the ground. It perches patiently, its keen eyes scanning the terrain below. Then, it swoops down, snatching up small to medium-sized mammals, birds, reptiles, and occasionally insects.
The Wedge-Tailed Eagle is Australia's largest bird of prey, with a wingspan stretching up to 7.7 feet. They have dark brown to black bodies, dark eyes and beaks, and a set of feathered legs. During flight, we can observe their wedge-shaped tail.
Like the previous type of eagle, they are also not picky eaters. Their menus include kangaroos, wallabies, birds, reptiles, and carrion. When encountering a larger prey, they strategize in groups.
You can watch them flying over Australia's grasslands, forests, and deserts. They've also been spotted in some Tasmania, New Guinea, and Indonesia areas.
With its 7.2 feet wingspan and dark brown body, the Eastern Imperial Eagle can be easily confused with the Golden Eagle. To distinguish, they are darker and smaller but with proportionately larger heads. They breed around Southeastern Europe and migrate to different parts of Asia.
The Tawny Eagles, with its wingspan stretching up to 6 feet, have a plumage with a mix of browns, just like the previous types of eagles. They are a creature of resilience, making their homes in the open, dry environments of deserts, steppes, and savannahs. It's a frequent sight across Africa and some parts of Asia.
Also known as Crowned Hawk Eagle, these non-migratory booted eagles command the skies of sub-Saharan Africa. Resembling the crowns of the Harpy Eagle, the Crown Eagles have a mix of black, brown, and white colors.
Moreover, they have a unique hunting strategy. While other raptors glide at great heights for their next meal, this eagle opts for stealth. They mainly eat mammals, and one of their favorites is an antelope species six times their weight.
Blyth's Hawk-Eagle got its name from the British zoologist Edward Blyth. This medium-sized raptor sports a stark contrast of colors. They also have a crown of long feathers adorning their heads, further enhancing their regal aura. Their natural habitat is the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, which offer cover and a diverse menu.
With a wingspan of 7.4 feet, the Martial Eagle is considered the largest eagle species in Africa. Most of their body is covered with a dark brown hue, while their underparts have a contrasting white color dotted with spots. They also sport a slightly erect crest less flared than a Crowned Eagle.
This booted eagle is also known as the “Leopard of the Sky” for being an aggressive apex predators. They are bold enough to hunt dangerous prey like monitor lizards and vultures.
The Black Hawk Eagles are covered with charcoal black plumage. But if you look closely, they have white stripes adorning their tails, white bands under their wings, and slightly tufted black crest with white edges.
They also have yellow eyes, feet, and cere. Moreover, they call the rainforests of Central and South America.
Our first snake eagle on the list is the Brown Snake Eagle, which inhabits open savannahs and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. As their name suggests, they are entirely brown. They also have white flight feathers, long tails with white bars, and yellow eyes.
Since their primary diet consists of snakes, they have heavily scaled legs and feet, protecting them against the venomous ones. Interestingly, they have a strong preference for cobras and puff adders. Although immune, they use their sharp talons and swallow them whole.
Additionally, they are the largest snake eagle species with a 6-foot wingspan and 2.5 feet height.
Aside from their dark breasts, the Black-chested Snake Eagles have white abdomen, white underwing coverts, and bands at their tips and tails. Like the previous type of eagle, they live in open areas of sub-Saharan Africa, where they can easily spot their primary prey — snakes.
However, they will also hunt for small animals such as lizards, birds, and toads. This species has also taken advantage of grassfires, where it is easier to catch fleeing distracted prey.
The Crested Serpent Eagle wears a distinctive crest that often stands tall, transforming its head into a striking hammerhead silhouette. Its body is cloaked in dark brown plumage. They have lighter brown underbelly, white spots, and white bands on their tails and wings.
On a closer look, they also sport yellow eyes and black-tipped yellow beaks, with the yellow hue spreading around their eyes.
These snake eagles are predominantly found in forested regions spanning the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and East Asia. Like the previous birds, they have the same dietary preference.
The Philippine Serpent Eagle is a medium-sized raptor hunting for prey in open areas in the Philippines. Sometimes, scientists consider it a subspecies of Crested Serpent Eagles. This is understandable because of their striking similarity.
However, when comparing, we can see the Philippine Serpent Eagle has a much darker coloration and larger white spots spread across its neck and chest.
Madagascar Serpent Eagles are one of the two only eagle species found in the rainforests of Madagascar. The limited knowledge of this species was based on 11 specimens collected till 1935.
Thankfully, The Peregrine Fund, in 1993, spotted, documented, and initiated an ongoing study on these snake eagles. Once believed to be extinct, they now have the IUCN status of an endangered species.
The Short-toed Snake Eagle is distinguishable by its predominantly white underside and greyish-brown upperparts, complimented by a pale, earthy brown chin, throat, and upper breast. It has a rounded, owl-like head, bright yellow eyes, and lightly barred underwing.
This type of eagle lives and migrates across Africa, Europe, and Asia, where it nests in woodlands but prefers hunting over open terrains. Unlike the Brown Snake Eagle, this species primarily feeds on non-venomous snakes.
Our first type of harpy eagle is the national bird of the Philippines, the Philippine Eagle, also known as the Monkey-Eating Eagle. This majestic avian is one of the largest eagle species, with 3.3 feet in body length.
Adorned with a dark brown body, a creamy-brown nape, and a crown, this eagle is a sight to behold. Moreover, it has shaggy crest feathers, which lend a lion-like aura to its appearance.
Furthermore, these solitary raptors rely on primary forests and are highly territorial, needing at least 10,000 acres. They usually live in lowland habitats. However, due to deforestation and hunting, they recently became more limited to mountain slopes.
Next on the list is another titan, the American Harpy Eagle, who stands tall at 3.5 feet. With rear talons up to 4 inches long, roughly the same size as a grizzly bear's claws, they can carry prey that weighs as much as half its body weight.
They have grey-black and white plumage, a black band across their chest, and a double-crested head that catches the eye. Like the previous type of eagle, they are also solitary and territorial creatures, requiring the same amount of space.
Furthermore, these powerful birds favor the upper canopy layer of tropical rainforests for their habitat. Their range extends from Mexico through Central and South America to Argentina. But it's in Brazil's dense rainforests where the largest population thrives.
The New Guinea eagle, also known as the Papuan Harpy Eagle, lives only in the mature rainforest of New Guinea. They are greyish-brown with a cream-colored underside and distinct darker bars. Like other harpies, they also sport a full crest.
The Crested Eagle, living in rainforests from Southern Mexico down to Northern Argentina, can often be confused with a juvenile Harpy Eagle due to their similar looks, nesting habits, and habitat usage.
They come in two color patterns. The lighter version flaunts a dark black back and wings, a light grey head and upper breast, and a lower breast streaked with slim, reddish barring. On the other hand, the primarily black dark morph may display white horizontal lines across their lower bellies.
However, both variants share a distinguishing feature - a crest ending in a single pointed feather.
Across the globe, several eagle species face the threat of extinction. The Philippine Eagle, the Javan Hawk-Eagle, and the Madagascar Fish-Eagle are critically endangered, an alarming indication of their survival crisis.
Predominant threats include habitat loss, poaching, and illegal trade, each playing a significant role in dwindling their population.
Yet, there's hope. The Bald Eagle and the Madagascar Serpent-Eagle are triumphant examples of conservation success. The Bald Eagle population was revitalized in the United States thanks to stringent legal protections and captive breeding programs.
Meanwhile, continuous research and conservation efforts by teams like The Peregrine Fund have enabled a greater understanding and preservation of the elusive Madagascar Serpent-Eagle.
These success stories reinforce the belief that we can overturn the grim fate of these predators through concerted efforts. By fostering a culture of conservation, enforcing harsher penalties for poaching, and expanding the scope of research, we can ensure these species continue to grace our skies.
Wrapping up, we've examined the appearance, hunting tactics, habitats, and conservation status of many types of eagles. A more profound knowledge of these birds of prey is vital for their effective preservation. Through persistence in conservation, we can bolster the survival and role of these predatory birds in ecosystems worldwide.
Katzner, T. E., Kochert, M. N., Steenhof, K., McIntyre, C. L., Craig, E. H., & Miller, T. A. (2020). Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). Birds of the World.
Isabela is a determined millennial passionate about continuously seeking out ways to make an impact. With a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering with honors, Isabela’s research expertise and interest in artistic works, coupled with a creative mindset, offers readers a fresh take on different environmental, social, and personal development topics.