Cat owners who live in the same areas where eagles are present have worried for years about the risk of their pet being taken by a bird of prey. But just what is the truth about eagles being able to pick up cats and taking them away to eat them?
Well, I decided to investigate this in more depth, as I own a cat, and was scared it could be attacked and taken away by an eagle. What I found was very surprising, but here’s the very quick answer first before I go into the caveats.
Can an eagle pick up a cat? Research shows that eagles cannot pick up adult cats and carry them away. The strongest eagle can carry 3 to 4 pounds in weight, and an adult cat weighs on average 8 to 10 pounds.
Whilst that’s the short answer, there are some exceptions to this rule which you need to be aware of if you are worried about your cat being attacked and carried off by an eagle.
This is particularly important if you own a young kitten, which is where the general rule of thumb isn’t the same, and the cat could be at risk of being attacked, picked up, and killed as prey.
Can an eagle catch a cat or kitten?
So firstly, that broad rule about eagles being able to pick up and carry 4 to 5 pounds in weight. This is based on research that suggests eagles can carry half their own body weight.
However, there’s also other suggestions by Professor David Bird that eagles can carry 108% of their own body weight over short distances if the weather conditions are optimum. In this case, an eagle might be able to pick up an adult cat, but only briefly before having to drop it.
Kittens however are an entirely different matter.
Can an eagle pick up a kitten?
Yes, eagles can pick up kittens aged up around 4 months of age. This is based on knowing that large eagles are able to pick up and carry 4 to 5 pounds in weight.
The average kitten does not exceed this weight until month 5, so any kitten before that can be at risk of being killed by an eagle.
If we look at the weight progression of a newborn kitten through to adulthood, we see the following average weights:
- Newborn kitten weighs: 0.2 to 0.3 pounds (0.1 to 0.13 kg) – can be picked up.
- 8 week old kitten weighs: 2 pounds (0.9 kg) – can be picked up.
- 4 month old kitten weighs: 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.3 kg) – can be picked up.
- 5 month old kitten weighs: 5 to 6 pounds (2.3 to 2.7 kg) – now too heavy.
- Average adult cat weighs: 8 to 10 pounds (3.6 to 4.5 kg) – far too heavy.
So, that’s the truth about eagles being able to pick up cats, but as I mentioned, there’s a little more to it – you still need to be careful with adult cats.
Handy Hint: Did you ever see that video which appears to show an eagle picking up a deer? Here’s what really happened.
Do eagles attack cats?
Undoubtedly there will have been occasions when eagles have attacked a cat. However, this is very unusual, and would only happen if the eagle believed the cat was small enough to be prey.
As we’ve established already, eagles won’t be able to pick up adult cats due to how much they weigh. Yes, an eagle may attempt to swoop down and carry away a prey weighing over 5 pounds, but it will not be able to continue carrying this weight.
But if you had small kittens in your backyard under the age of 4 to 5 months, you might, and I stress the word “might”, see an eagle attack and kill a cat of this age.
Did You Know? Owls in some areas have been known to attack eagles when their territory is threatened.
Why people worry about eagles attacking cats
In 2016 a video surfaced online which showed bald eagles bringing a dead cat back to their nest for the young to feed upon. As you can imagine, this caused panic for cat owners living in areas where bald eagles inhabit.
However, all was not what it really seemed. The truth of the matter is that the eagles likely found the cat dead already, perhaps as roadkill (which they are known to eat in winter).
A spokesperson for the Audubon Society of western Pennsylvania said the following:
We believe that the cat was dead when brought to the nest. Eagles bring squirrels, rabbits, fish into the nest to eat multiple times each day. To people, the cat represents a pet but to the eagles and to other raptors, the cat is a way to sustain the eaglets and help them to grow. While seeing a cat in the nest was difficult for many, we’re hopeful that people will understand that this is a part of nature, and nature isn’t always kind or pretty.
If you’ve not seen the video of the eagles bringing the dead cat to their young chicks, here it is…
Calculating the weight of a cat an eagle might be able to carry
To wrap things up on eagles being able to pick up cats, I wanted to share a little more on how I reached the conclusions I came to today.
If we take bald eagles and their potential for picking up cats, then the average female is heavier than the male of the species. The average bald eagle will therefore weigh in at 8 to 15 pounds, which research suggesting they can lift half this weight.
This means a bald eagle has the potential to pick up something that is weighing 4 to 5 pounds and below. As established, that would be young cats of kitten ages 5 months and under.
They can lift animals like this due to their broad wings which offer the bald eagle support as it carries the weight of its prey. Without long wings, the bald eagle’s weight alone would not be enough to move prey from one spot to another with ease.
Most of the bald eagle’s flying power comes from the flapping of its wings.
Handy Hint: Have you ever heard the stories about eagles picking up humans? Here’s the truth about birds carrying heavy weights.
How to keep your cats safe from eagles
If this article has worried you in anyway, then there are some protective measures you can take to ensure your cat is not picked up by a mad and angry eagle.
The first thing I recommend is that you read this guide to attracting eagles. Simply look on that webpage for what eagle like in a domestic backyard and do the exact opposite. This means removing things from your property that eagles like.
I am sure you are also aware, but it’s illegal to kill or harm a bald eagle, so do not do anything to threaten them.
Secondly, and more obviously, don’t let your kittens or cats out into the open until they are heavier than 6 to 8 pounds (the same goes for small dogs). This is a little over what the weight an eagle can pick up is, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you do want your young kitten to have fresh air, perhaps invest in a dog crate or similar, so at least they can be outside, but out of the reach of an eagle that wants to pick it up.
Did You Know? A photographer took some amazing shots of a crow flying and landing on an eagle’s back!
Given how eagles are represented in popular culture, it’s easy to understand why there’s a fear of them picking up cats as prey.
However, as I’ve now learned and shared with you, eagles can only carry off and fly with around half their own body weight – which limits the size and weight of cat they would be able to carry.
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Image in header via https://unsplash.com/photos/F12BtzEeVyk