There are two species of eagles resident in North America, the bald eagle and the golden eagle. The bald eagle is one of the animals most closely associated with the United States. Although both birds are in the top 5 largest North American birds, they still have some predators.
Adult eagles are apex predators at the top of the food chain. Juveniles must contend with predation, accidental death, falling from the nest, or fratricide. Adults must deal with injuries, starvation, collisions, and human interference.
There are natural predators and unnatural predators, which is where humans come into the equation. When you add in the conflicts between eagles, you see that these birds aren’t as invincible as they first seem.
Eagles Are At The Top of the Food Chain
Eagles are apex predators, putting them at the very top of the food chain. Many eagle species eat other birds and mammals to survive. Bald Eagles also feed on fish out of lakes and rivers across the country.
The eagle has no predators because of its position at the top of the food chain. This is true for adult eagles in their prime, but if they are injured or old, then this changes. For healthy adults, nothing within their ecosystem has the skill or power to take a healthy adult eagle down. Fox and wolf species could try and rush a feeding eagle in desperation but are more likely to get the eagle’s kill than the bird itself. However, eagles will take fox cubs and wolf pups if the opportunity arises.
Injured Adults Are At Risk
An eagle in its prime is likely to survive well with enough food resources in its territory. But, there may come a time when food is scarce, and eagles become weak and injured. A struggling eagle on a riverbank can become a target of larger predators, but if you see animals feeding on eagle remains, it is more likely to be carrion.
However, there is the story of the Bald Eagle in Maine in 2020 found with a stab wound through the heart. It was caused by a mother loon protecting its chicks. Protective parents will do their best for their brood and will defend them as well as they can.
Juveniles Are At Risk
Only adult eagles are at the top of the food chain. Young birds are more vulnerable to attack, especially those that aren’t nesting in trees. Some animals will take these chicks if the possibility is there.
Young eagles often don’t have the power or flight skills to defend themselves from attack. Young nestlings may have talons and a sharp beak, but that isn’t going to do much when a determined predator decides to take them. They might assume that they are perfectly safe up in trees. However, arboreal creatures like bears and raccoons can climb up and take advantage of an easy meal. Depending on the chick’s size, other birds such as owls, hawks, and corvids may come and take a chick.
While some eagles will nest in trees, not all eagles do. Some will nest on rocky ledges that can provide shelter and build a nest large enough for their needs. Some bald eagle chicks may fall from the nest or get pushed out by their siblings. Unable to fly and underdeveloped, they can be an easy meal for ground-dwelling creatures. Foxes, wolves, bears, bobcats, and wolverines are just some of the major carnivores that will take a chick from the ground.
It isn’t uncommon for birds of prey to put all their energy into raising one chick so it can thrive. It is more practical to give this chick food to ensure that at least one is fit, strong, and survives. This tends to be the first egg to hatch within a nest.
The laying and hatching of eggs are staggered to make it easier on the first chick and turn the younger sibling into a spare. Not only will the parent focus on the larger chick, who will beg to get as much food as possible, but the older chick will push the youngest out of the way, attack it, and may even kill it.
We can’t forget that eagles have an unnatural predator within their ecosystem. Bald eagles across the U.S. are still shot and poisoned by humans who feel threatened by their existence. The number of eagles has recovered dramatically since the mid-century, after mass poisoning from the pesticide DDT.
However, there are still lead poisoning and shooting cases as fishermen and landowners struggle to coexist with these incredible birds. Landowners may also shoot any Golden Eagles that they perceive as a threat.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.