For centuries people have lived in fear of bald eagles swooping down and picking up pets, livestock, and even human babies. But what exactly is the truth about bald eagles picking up live or inanimate objects and how much weight can they pick up? Here’s the truth…
How much weight can a bald eagle carry? A bald eagle can only carry prey that’s half its weight. On average that could be 4 to 5 pounds in weight that bald eagles can carry.
Being a big bird doesn’t make the bald eagle strong enough to lift prey of all sizes. A bald eagle will quickly drop off prey that’s beyond its capacity.
That’s the very simple answer and based on the most popular opinions of scientists and researchers. However, there is another view that a bald eagle can carry more weight than this, and I will explain that lower down the page.
There’s also details on what kind of animals a bald eagle could pick up and carry including cats, dogs, deer, goats, and even human babies (with video)!
How much weight can a bald eagle carry in flight?
Given we assume a bald eagle can carry half its own weight in flight, this means we also need to consider how heavy a bald eagle is and then compare that to various animals and pets.
Before I do that though, I wanted to share with you a slight difference in opinion on how much weight a bald eagle can carry in flight. Professor David Bird believes a bald eagle can carry 108% of its own body weight.
From what I can gather, Professor Bird explains that bald eagles can carry this much weight in flight over very short distances, for example when gliding. The weather conditions also need to be favorable for a bald eagle to carry this much weight.
I believe that the reason for this disparity is how you quantify what it means by a bald eagle picking up and carrying weight.
For example, if a bald eagle was to swoop down and quickly grab at something, I can see that it would be able to carry that weight for a meter or two and “gliding” with 108% of its own body weight.
However, if a bald eagle was to grab something and fly off with it, it would not be able to maintain carrying 108% its own weight. This is where the other estimation comes into account where it’s said bald eagles can carry around half their body weight in “sustained” flight.
Professor Bird’s research is very interesting though as it discusses all birds and how much they can carry, not just bald eagles. If you want to learn more, please do purchase his book on Amazon.
Back to where we were though and figuring out how much weight a bald eagle could pick up and carry off if half its body weight.
Let’s first start with the basics. What’s the weight of a bald eagle? A bald eagle weighs approximately 8 to 15 pounds.
To paint a clear picture, the bald eagle’s average weight is like the average weight of a Labrador puppy. Here are some fun facts from the Mass.gov website.
- Common name: Bald eagle
- Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Size: 3 feet in length with a 7-foot wingspan, 8–15 pounds
- Range: Alaska and Canada south throughout the United State to Florida and Baja California
- Conservation status: Special concern in MA, not listed federally
- Fun fact: It’s the largest bird of prey in Massachusetts
The bald eagle is quite a heavy bird of prey.
Calculating how much weight bald eagles can carry
On average, the female bald eagles have more weight compared to the male bald eagles. The female bald eagle’s weight is 25% more than that of the male bald eagle.
So, with an 8 to 15 pounds weight, a bald eagle will lift prey roughly half this weight without struggling. The average bald eagle will comfortably lift and carry around prey weighing 4 to 5 pounds and below.
Also, the bald eagle’s 7-feet wingspan makes this lifting power bearable for this bird. Here’s a surprising fact —The bald eagle’s wingspan is more than the average height of a 16-year-old male teenager in America.
Did You Know? People believe that the bald eagle’s wings could even paddle a boat!
These broad wings offer the bald eagle more 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.
The wings make it possible for the bald eagle to seize prey that’s half its weight and fly away with it (here’s how high eagles can fly, it might surprise you).
That’s a lot of information. Let’s break it down.
- Eagle species: Bald eagle
- Weight in pounds: 8 to 15 pounds (3.6 – 6.8 kg)
- The average length of wingspan: 7 feet
- Therefore, prey weight a bald eagle can carry: 4 to 5 pounds (1.8 to 2.5 kg)
The bald eagle may attempt to swoop down and carry away a prey weighing over 5 pounds, but it will hardly sustain this weight.
The bald eagle will drop the prey and feed on it while on the ground.
If a bald eagle travels with heavy prey for a distance, its talons may dig so deep into the prey. The bald eagle may be unable to detach itself from the prey.
Animals that bald eagles can carry in flight
Based on this information, a bald eagle can capture and comfortably fly away with prey such as:
- Rabbits: 4 to 5 pounds
- Ground squirrels: 4 pounds
- Small dogs like Chihuahuas: 5 pounds
- Small chicken: 3 pounds
- Pink salmon: 4.8 pounds
- Mountain hare: 4.4 pounds
- Medium-sized crab: 5 pounds
In one rare case, a bald eagle broke the record for flying off with the carcass of a mule deer weighing 15 pounds (6.8 kg). In another unusual incident, a bald eagle dropped a 12 pounds stick on the ground.
How was this even possible?
Momentum capture was responsible. Let’s discuss this.
A bald eagle’s momentum can make a big difference in what a bald eagle can or can’t lift. You can read more about this on the Raptor Resource website – it’s where I learned what I am describing here.
A bald eagle that’s flying at an incredible speed will have a higher lifting potential. It’ll be able to take off with prey weighing over 5 pounds — but only for a short distance.
When a bald eagle spots a heavy target, it increases its speed by changing the position of its wings. Doing so enables the bald eagle to attain a higher flight speed.
A bald eagle approaching its target at a breakneck speed will grab the heavy prey and immediately take off with the same speed. We call this momentum capture.
A bald eagle in momentum has a steep descending motion. When in this state, the bald eagle’s lifting power increases.
The bald eagle’s attempt is made easier when the heavy prey runs away in a straight direction. At that very moment, the bald eagle can swiftly seize a large prey without struggling so much.
The case is different for a bald eagle that first lands on the ground, attacks its heavy target, and attempts to take off with it. The bald eagle interrupts its forward momentum when it opts to attack heavy prey on the ground.
After spending a few minutes wrestling its heavy prey on the ground, it becomes difficult for the bald eagle to lift and fly away with the prey. Already, there’s a disrupted momentum. And there’s extra weight from the prey. This combination makes it hard for the bald eagle to proceed with its skyward motion at full potential.
A bald eagle’s momentum capture also increases when there’s wind. During windy days, a bald eagle has the advantage of catching and carrying heavy prey in a short distance.
The air currents on a windy day will help the bald eagle to rise with a bulky object or prey.
The answer is no. A bald eagle can’t lift a human being. The general rule is a bald eagle will carry prey that’s at least half its weight. On average, a human being weighs around 137 pounds. That’s roughly ten times greater than the bald eagle’s highest weight.
If we put this in theory, it would take about ten bald eagles, each weighing 14 pounds, to lift a fully grown human being from the ground.
The bald eagle is not strong enough to bear the weight of a human being. That’s why you’ll hardly see a bald eagle trying to carry away a fully-grown person from the ground.
Handy Hint: Ever wondered why bald eagles build their nests so high?
A bald eagle can’t pick a cat from the ground. The ideal weight of a domesticated cat is 10 pounds. A bald eagle’s weight ranges from 8 to 14 pounds. Meaning, a cat’s weight, and that of a bald eagle is almost the same.
The bald eagle will struggle to lift a cat its size. However, if it’s a momentum capture as discussed in the article, the bald eagle can slightly lift a cat.
Kittens are unlucky, though. A bald eagle will pick a kitten without struggling because kittens weigh around 4 pounds. A bald eagle can comfortably lift prey that weighs between 4 – 5 pounds.
If you own a kitten and bald eagles are common in your area, consider keeping your kitten indoors – here are more tips on how to stop a cat being picked up by an eagle.
The good thing is a bald eagle has limited lifting potential. A bald eagle will pick up a dog that weighs less than 5 pounds.
The bald eagle will have a hard time lifting a dog that’s more than 5 pounds.
If you are planning on attracting bald eagles to your backyard (here’s how) and own a small dog that weight 5 pounds or less, please do think again.
A few years back, this video of an eagle picking a baby made rounds online. If you’re keen to observe, the eagle drops off the baby moments after picking them up.
A baby weighs more than an eagle. An eagle can’t pick up a baby unless it’s a momentum capture. But even with momentum, an eagle that’s managed to snatch a baby will barely cover a reasonable distance.
Can a bald eagle pick up a goat?
A bald eagle would not be able to pick up a goat, as the average goat weighs between 120 and 170 pounds. It could be able to briefly pick up a baby goat from birth, as they weigh 4 to 8 pounds, but is probably going to drop the baby goat shortly after swooping.
Can a bald eagle pick up a deer?
A deer would be too heavy for a bald eagle to pick up and carry away as it’s far too heavy. However, there have been photos on the Internet which show a bald eagle attempting to attack a deer, but with no luck.
Animals, both big and small, scatter at the sight of a bald eagle soaring above them. You’d expect this fear from smaller animals, not from the bigger ones. Without correct information, you’ll assume that the bald eagle lifts any prey it sets its sharp-sighted eyes on.
However, as I’ve now learned and shared with you, bald eagles can only carry off and fly with around half their own body weight – which limits the types of animals and objects it can carry.
You might also like…
- A list of animals that have been seen eating eagles
- What eagles will eat in winter to survive the cold
- Why eagles get scared when flying over the sea
Image in header via https://unsplash.com/photos/F12BtzEeVyk