From https://twitter.com/dannolan/status/665409197685764096 (408 RTs, 495 likes), though another comparison between the two exists in Australian Popular Science

Description below

[US flag, picture of American Bald Eagle]

American Bald Eagle

  • One of the smallest Eagles in the world
  • Only eats little fish
  • Basically a glorified seagull

[Australian flag, picture of Australian Wedge Tail Eagle]

Australian Wedge Tail Eagle

  • One of the largest Eagles in the world
  • Hunts large mammals including Kangaroos
  • Can see infra red and ultraviolet
  • Only eagle in the world that attacks Parachutes and Paragliders

Is this comparison describing wedge tailed eagles as more bad-ass than bald eagles accurate?

Related question: Is Australian fauna more dangerous?

  • 11
    A little Google searching suggests it's not true that bald eagles only eat fish; for instance, they also eat carrion. Not exactly a point in their favor in the awesomeness contest, though. – Nate Eldredge Nov 15 '15 at 0:17
  • 4
    Wait. Uselessly attacking an Alpha predator (Homo Sapient) in an apparent death wish is somehow evidence of awesomeness? Darwin would disagree :) – user5341 Nov 15 '15 at 21:41
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    One thing the bald eagle has on its side: no wedgie has tried attacking Donald Trump huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/… – Andrew Grimm Dec 22 '15 at 10:42
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    @DJClayworth: I don't know about that "can't beat". Seems like the US has a pretty good track record: British Empire (twice), Spanish Empire, German Empire (WWI), Nazis & Japanese Empire, Communists... – jamesqf Mar 26 '16 at 17:34
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    I think golden eagles (that hunt wolves) would laugh at both of these species. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunting_with_eagles – PoloHoleSet Sep 21 '16 at 16:55
up vote 31 down vote accepted

American Bald Eagle - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

Claim #1: One of the smallest Eagles in the world.

False
Length of the American Bald Eagle is 94-106 cm (this is in the length range of 85 - 106 cm for Aquila audax) and wingspan is 5.9-7.5 ft (1.8-2.3 metres).
Weight is approximately 6.5 to 14 lbs (3 kg to 6.5 kg) which is more than the weight of Aquila audax which ranges between 2 kg to 5.3 kg.

The size range of the adult Bald Eagle is a wingspan of 168-244 cm, and body masses range from 3.0-6.3 kg (Buehler, 2000).

Second in size only to California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) and about the same size as golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos), bald eagles dwarf most other North American raptors.

Based on information from data in 'Raptors of the World' by Ferguson-Lees, J and Christie D, 2001 present here, the size dimensions of American Bald Eagle when compared with eagles from other parts of the world is within the range of the heaviest eagles of the world, longest eagles of the world and eagles with the largest wingspan.

Claim #2: Only eats little fish.

Partly False
American bald eagles are known to prefer fish but they also scavenge carrion or steal the kills of other animals.

They also take birds, especially waterfowl, and occasional mammals. In addition to eating other animals such as ducks, muskrats, and sometimes turtles, they eat carrion willingly, and are notorious for robbing osprey of their catches.

They are also reported to feed on human flesh and consume Harbor Seal placenta.

Claim #3: Basically a glorified seagull.

Debatable
Bald eagles are shown to hunt seagulls.

Australian Wedge Tail Eagle - Aquila audax

Claim #1: One of the largest Eagles in the world.

True
The Wedge-Tailed Eagle is known to be the largest raptor in Australia and fourth largest among the 10 largest eagles of the world based on the data in 'Raptors of the World' by Ferguson-Lees, J and Christie, D in 2001. The largest wingspan ever verified for an eagle was for this species when a female killed in Tasmania in 1931 was found to have a wingspan of 284 cm (9 ft 4 in) and another female measured barely smaller at 279 cm (9 ft 2 in).

Size - Length: 85 - 106 cm or 1.06 m (3 ft 6 in), Wingspan: 182 - 232 cm or 2.27 m (7 ft 5 in), Male weight: 2 - 4 kg, Female weight: 3.1 - 5.3 kg.

This eagle's great length and wingspan place it among the largest eagles in the world but its wings, at more than 65 cm (26 in), and tail, at 45 cm (18 in), are both unusually elongated for its body weight and 8-9 other eagle species regularly outweigh it.

In comparison, the wingspan of Steller's sea eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) is one of the largest of any living eagle in the world, at an median of 2.13 m (7 ft 0 in) and its weight is 5 to 9 kg (11 to 20 lb) which makes Aquila audax smaller in overall size (including body mass).

Claim #2: Hunts large mammals including Kangaroos

True
The Australian wedge tailed eagle is known to cooperatively hunt mammals such as adult kangaroos and kangaroo joeys which are baby kangaroos, birds such as emu and reptiles such as bobtail skinks.

You would expect such a huge, powerful bird to be a ferocious hunter. In fact, the Wedge-tailed Eagle is not nearly as swift or as deadly as other birds of prey such as falcons and sparrow hawks. Often it will swoop down onto a fleeing rabbit or wallaby, only to come up empty- handed (or empty-clawed!).

Wedge-tailed Eagles eat a wide variety of mammals, lizards and birds, depending on their local abundance. Mammals make up the greatest share of their diet, and rabbits are the most important live prey taken. They will also eat possums, gliders, cats, dogs, piglets, kangaroos, wallabies, lambs, goats, calves and foxes.

Simon Cherriman who has done extensive research on Wedgies has a lot of pictures of Australian Wedge Tail Eagle prey here.

Claim #3: Can see infra red and ultraviolet

Ultraviolet vision

True
Many bird species including other eagle groups and pigeons can see UV light.

Infra red vision

False
The majority of animals and birds are not sensitive to near-infrared spectrum (720nm-1500nm) based on this answer. Infrared detection in vertebrates is known in snakes and vampire bats.

Claim #4: Only eagle in the world that attacks Parachutes and Paragliders

Partly true but debatable
The known documented event was an attack of pair of wedge tailed eagles on a paraglider named Nicky Moss.

However, other eagle species such as the Himalayan golden eagles are also known to attack paragliders which is documented here and here.

  • 4
    For the first claim, you're comparing the bald eagle to other raptors including non-eagles, only in North America. The claim was that it was one of the smallest eagles, internationally. How does it compare to other types of eagle? – user568458 Dec 15 '15 at 13:57
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    @user568458-Added information regarding size comparison between American Bald eagles and other raptors of the world! – pericles316 Dec 22 '15 at 8:01
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    I think all birds of prey, including peregrine falcons, will swoop down and sometimes come up empty-clawed. If they only swooped when they were 100% guaranteed a catch, it would be a rather inefficient hunting strategy. – Peter Shor Mar 31 '16 at 20:50
  • 1
    "Claim #2 - partially false" - I'd say just "false," since primarily eating fish does not mean that it is only capable of eating SMALL fish. cdn.shutterbug.com/images/styles/600_wide/public/… – PoloHoleSet Sep 21 '16 at 16:53
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    I think more direct comparison of bald eagles and wedge-tailed eagles would improve this answer. Particularly in size (you say both are among the largest, but don’t offer a direct comparison between the two—and you do offer a comparison between the wedge-tail and Steller’s sea eagle, which isn’t part of the question), and for things like ultraviolet vision (if many bird species have that, do bald eagles?). – KRyan Feb 21 at 15:31

The Australian museum describes the wedge-tailed eagle as "one of the largest eagles in the world".

The Australian Popular Science article states that wedge-tailed eagles attack hang gliders and paragliders, and has a video which is an apparent first-hand experience of this.

Wikipedia's article on wedge-tailed eagles states that they can see into infrared and UV, but doesn't provide a source.

Birds in Backyards mentions that a group of wedge-tailed eagles can hunt a kangaroo. The comparison quoted in the question didn't mention that the hunting of kangaroos was done by groups.

Wedge-tailed Eagles may hunt singly, in pairs or in larger groups. Working together, a group of eagles can attack and kill animals as large as adult kangaroos.

  • 4
    Did you find a reputable publication with the "glorified seagull" description? – GEdgar Nov 15 '15 at 1:10
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    @GEdgar: I think that has to be filed under opinion-based, but it raises the point that only half the question has been answered. Size and diet of Bald Eagles still remains. – Oddthinking Nov 15 '15 at 9:16
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    And if you really wanted to be fair, some evidence that they don't see into the infrared/UV, and that they don't attack paragliders. – Oddthinking Nov 15 '15 at 9:18
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    Do wedge-tailed eagles attack grizzly bears? youtu.be/hV3ajQRniNg – Mark Nov 17 '15 at 0:26
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    Re diet, it'd be a very lost Bald Eagle that ate kangaroos, while (away from the sea) Australian Eagles would starve if they had to depend on fish, being as Australian rivers & lakes mostly lack water :-) – jamesqf Mar 25 '16 at 17:44

Wedgies will take on a variety of things that fly into their territory and it's becoming a problem for farmers and land surveyors who use drones. Many a drone has been lost to the talons of our eagles and there are countless videos of paragliders, drones and sometimes people being attacked. They're unmatched in the air and will often engage in talon on talon fights with other eagles.

Personally I wouldn't want to get within a kilometre of a pissed off Wedgie but that's just me.

Also they are of Least Concern on the endangered scale, though their Tasmanian cousins are Highly endangered and a bit of a concern currently. Wedge tails will cooperate with others to bring down larger prey and steal prey from other birds and dingoes as well as eating directly off the road and snacking on highway roadkill. Most Truckers will spot a Wedgie on the road and slow down as to not hit them because they can be rather slow to take off and usually crash through the windscreen and take the driver out with them. Which isn't as funny as it sounds when you think about a 40 - 50 kilo bird with a wingspan of 2.3 metres plowing through your windshield at 100km an hour.

All in all the Wedge Tailed Eagle is a perfect embodiment of the aussie spirit of not-giving-a-flying-fuck and an excellent bird.

Reference links and sources:

Google Wedge tailed Eagle attacks and hit videos and you'll get 10 pages of results.

Personally I like both birds. They evolved to do what they do and behave how they do because of their habitats and lifestyles. If they both had the same habitat I'm sure they would have evolved differently.

  • Hello Jay Jay, and welcome to Skeptics. While your contribution is appreciated, we're looking for referenced verification or refutation of the claims the OP is interested in. May I invite you to take the tour? – SQB Feb 21 at 12:05

Well, first of all, a wedge-tailed eagle can be more than half the size of a small car, whereas a bald eagle is about 3/4 times the size of a wedge-tail. Secondly, the wedge-tail is one of eleven species of proper eagles (in the genus Aquila) whereas the bald eagle is a sea eagle, which is part of the genus Haliaeetus. So not only is it smaller, but it's also not even a true eagle. Bald eagles eat "waterfowl and small mammals like squirrels, prairie dogs, raccoons and rabbits" (according to the American National Eagle Centre), whereas wedge-tailed eagles can (and do) take down a fully-grown red kangaroo, the size of which is comparable with a 6-foot human, and which can weigh up to 90 kilograms (approximately 200lb). They are also more than willing to attack humans, and pretty much anything else that moves if they're hungry enough. In addition, wedge-tailed eagles have survived on one of the most inhospitable continents on the planet(slide 12) (beaten by Antarctica only in terms of weather, since Australia's fauna is particularly deadly), whereas bald eagles live mainly in either coastal or forested areas where there is ample food.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 2
    Can you provide citations for any of this? – jwodder Apr 23 '17 at 3:17
  • You chose "i only use valid sources" as a username and then didn't cite any sources in your answer... – SIMEL Apr 23 '17 at 8:02
  • I added sources. – i only use valid sources Apr 23 '17 at 10:09
  • 2
    Welcome to Skeptics! Your first link doesn't compare wedgies to cars. Your second link doesn't compare bald-eagles to wedgies. The eagle versus sea eagle isn't relevant (unless sea gulls are also sea eagles.) Please go back and match up your claims, your sources claims and the original claims. – Oddthinking Apr 23 '17 at 14:52
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    I repeat my request. The original claim says Wedgies are one of the largest eagles in the world. You take a 1932 reference that says they reach 10 lbs, and claim it says it is half the size of a small car. They are three different statements. You need to make sure (a) you address the question, and (b) your references say what you say they claim. (Hint: Quote the passage in the reference that supports your argument.) – Oddthinking Apr 24 '17 at 11:37

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