There are many myths peddled about eagles, one of which involves their ability to be able to catch, take down, and lift a deer. But how true is this? I decided to find out whether a deer is too big or small for an eagle to pick up.
Can an eagle pick up a deer? Yes, an eagle can pick up a deer and lift it for a short distance before dropping it. Being able to fly off with the deer is very unlikely. On average deers are ten times heavier than the average weight an eagle can carry.
So, because of this, eagles rarely take down and pick up deer. But as you’ll soon see, picking up a deer for a short distance requires an eagle to use a special prey hunting technique.
Read on to discover which types of eagles manage to get away with large prey like deer. What gives them this extraordinary lifting potential? I’ll cover these and more in the article.
Let’s begin with the basics first. The average weight an eagle can pick up without struggling is five pounds.
So, any prey that weighs five pounds or less is a sure meal for an eagle. But this also depends on the eagle’s size and its species. Some eagles can manage loads slightly heavier than five pounds.
Eagles are ambitious predators (just like lions). They’ll try their luck with prey that’s beyond their carrying capacity. It’s no surprise to see an eagle trying to lift a large animal such as a deer. Sometimes, an eagle’s attempt is successful. Other times, the attempt ends up in frustration.
As you can see in this video, an eagle can pick up a deer. But, a few factors are involved, which increase an eagle’s chances of getting away with such heavy prey.
The mechanics of an eagle picking up a deer
Let’s look at a deer’s weight. The weight of most deer species ranges between 100 pounds to 400 pounds. A baby deer weighs roughly four to eight pounds.
Well, a large eagle won’t have difficulties picking up a baby deer.
But an adult deer? Is that even possible?
Yes, it is. From the video mentioned above, you see that the eagle did pick up a mature deer.
Keep in mind that a young eagle can’t lift a deer from the ground. They might manage to lift a cat though!
Only a fully grown eagle can, as its toes and legs are strong enough to firmly hold and bear the weight of the heavy prey.
The eagle species with the greatest ability to lift a deer include:
- The Philippine eagle
- The Harpy eagle
- The Golden eagle
- The Bald eagle
So, what exactly makes it possible for an eagle to pick a deer?
Suppose an eagle spots a dead deer on the ground.
It will fly to where this deer is, land on the ground, and try to pick and fly away with the carcass to its preferred location. In this scenario, the eagle’s efforts will bear no fruit.
No matter how strong an eagle is, it can’t lift a deer, be it a baby deer or an adult deer, from the ground when in a standing position.
The only option would be to feast on the deer from the ground. Or to tear the deer in small chunks and carry each chunk at a time to its desired location.
When an eagle slows down to land on the ground, it loses the momentum needed to lift heavy prey.
That said, an eagle will only lift a deer when it’s stooping down to attack.
Here’s what happens:
The eagle spots its target (the deer) and strategizes how to pick and fly away with it.
Stooping at prey is a well-thought-out attack strategy — that’s why an eagle diving towards a deer will pick it up.
An eagle won’t slow down to snatch the deer. Since there are no interruptions to the eagle’s speed and momentum, grabbing the deer becomes possible.
You’d be impressed when you watch any eagle in its high-stoop speed. You’ll think the eagle is dropping from the sky.
An eagle can travel at speeds of over 100 miles per hour when diving at any prey, including deers. And at no point will the eagle lose sight of the deer, thanks to its extraordinary vision that’s almost five times better than the human eye.
The eagle will first soar several kilometers above the ground. Diving from greater height allows the eagle to generate incredible aerodynamic forces. These forces allow the eagle to maintain a high speed until it gets into contact with a fast-moving deer.
Also, an eagle that’s on a high-speed dive will make adjustments to its wings position ﹘﹘ from flapping to folding its wings slightly backward against its body. Doing so enables the eagle to maintain a steady high speed that increases its lift potential.
So, an eagle attacking a deer from above has a higher chance of lifting the prey than an eagle attacking a deer from the ground. And it’s like deer know this. You’ll hardly see them calm when they notice an eagle flying above them.
Let’s not forget how strong an eagle’s toes and legs are.
Each foot of an eagle has four muscular toes with sharp, protruding talons. These talons enable an eagle to hang on to a large prey like deer. Talons are an eagle’s most important hunting tool. Without them, an eagle won’t manage to lift a deer, no matter how high its diving speed is.
The general rule is, the larger the eagle, the larger and stronger its talons and legs are.
An eagle’s legs have special tendons. The tendons make it possible for an eagle to relax its muscles while still holding on to the deer trapped in its talons.
An eagle diving at high speed towards a deer will clench its talons like a fist. This fist-like position creates a powerful gripping strength that allows the eagle to hold on to the deer tightly during take-off.
The talons locking mechanism gives the eagle an advantage.
How? The deer won’t manage to break free.
An eagle’s high diving speed creates a forward momentum that enables the eagle to easily stab its talons into the deer’s skin. In fact, an eagle’s talons are strong enough to crash a deer’s skull once its head gets trapped in the eagle’s talons.
It’s also worth noting that eagles are determined predators.
They don’t easily give up a prized meal and will do everything to make sure they don’t lose this meal. That’s why you’ll see an eagle trying to fly away with an adult deer, knowing very well it can’t cover a wide distance with the heavy prey on its feet.
In most instances, an eagle won’t travel with the deer for a long distance — it will release the deer in the air and fly down to eat it from the ground.
Flying around with a deer is strenuous. It’s also risky because the eagle’s talons might dig so deep into the deer’s skin, making it hard for the eagle to detach itself from the deer.
A bald eagle once made headlines after it was found dead with its talons buried inside a deer’s skull. So, perhaps it’s true that when an eagle dares to fly with a deer for a long distance, its talons might get stuck inside the deer’s flesh.
Yes, an eagle can pick up a deer. But only if the eagle catches the deer when diving from a high height.
Can a golden eagle pick up a deer?
It’s very rare for golden eagles to pick up deer. The Daily Mail website published the following:
Although the golden eagle is notorious for its bold hunts, and have been caught attacking coyote and even a young bear, experts believe this is the first documented attack on a deer. … It’s rare for golden eagles to snatch up deer
Adult eagles such as harpy eagles, Philippine eagles, golden eagles, and bald eagles can pick up a deer or baby goat. But as stated earlier, these eagles will only pick up a deer when in flight motion.
Yes, it can. A fawn’s weight is between four to eight pounds. Most big-sized eagles can handle this weight. A full-grown bald eagle on high speed can swoop down and snatch a fawn.
Large raptors like eagles, falcons and the great horned owl (flying at a high dive speed) can pick a deer.
Handy Hint: Click here to see which bird of prey can carry the heaviest weight in flight.
The chances of you seeing an eagle pick up a deer is very, very slim. Eagles don’t take down and carry deer. Yes, they will be tempted by road kill, but that’s about the extent of it.
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Image of a fawn not getting picked up by an eagle via https://pixabay.com/photos/animal-deer-mammal-species-fauna-6679843/