PHOTO CAPTION: Close-up view of an Australian Wedge-tailed Eagle showing the hooked beak.

Eagles are large birds of prey which are found mainly in the Old World, with only two species (Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle) in North America, a few in South America and two (White-bellied Sea Eagle and Wedge-tailed Eagle) in Australia. They are members of the bird order Falconiformes, family Accipitridae and belong to several different genera, not necessarily closely related to each other.

In Britain before 1678, Eagle referred exclusively to the Golden Eagle, the other native species, the White-tailed Eagle, being known as the Erne. The modern name “Golden Eagle” for Aquila chrysaetos was introduced by the naturalist John Ray.

Like all birds of prey, eagles have very large powerful hooked beaks used for tearing flesh from their prey. They also have strong legs, powerful talons and extremely keen eyesight which help them to spot potential prey from a very long distance. This keen eyesight is primarily contributed to their extremely large pupils, which cause minimal diffraction (spreading) of the incoming light.

Eagles are sometimes used in falconry. They appear significantly in myth and literature. In the Old World, such references are commonly to the Golden Eagle (or possibly closely related species found in warm climates).


For many years there has been scientific debate as to whether the Accipitriformes are a separate order, or belong to the Falconiformes.

Major new research into eagle taxonomy suggests that the important genera Aquila and Hieraaetus are not composed of nearest relatives. It is likely that a reclassification of these genera will soon take place, with some species being moved to Lophaetus or Ictinaetus.

  • Bonelli’s Eagle, Hieraaetus fasciatus and African Hawk-eagle, Hieraaetus spilogaster, should be moved to Aquila.
  • Greater Spotted Eagle, Aquila clanga and Lesser Spotted Eagle, Aquila pomarina should be moved either to join Long-crested Eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis or, perhaps better, all three of these species should move to Ictinaetus with the Black Eagle, Ictinaetus malayensis.
  • Steppe and Tawny Eagles, once thought to be conspecific, are shown not even to be each other’s nearest relatives.

Current species classification

  • Family Accipitridae
    • Subfamily Elaninae
    • Subfamily Milvinae
    • Subfamily Accipitrinae
    • Subfamily Buteoninae
      • (buzzards)
      • Crowned Eagle, Harpyhaliaetus coronatus
      • Solitary Eagle, Harpyhaliaetus solitarius
      • Crested Eagle, Morphnus guianensis
      • Harpy Eagle, Harpia harpyja
      • Philippine Eagle, Pithecophaga jefferyi
      • New Guinea Eagle, Harpyopsis novaeguineae
      • Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Oroaetus isidori
      • Black-and-white Hawk Eagle, Spizastur melanoleucus
      • Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus africanus
      • Changeable Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus cirrhatus
      • Mountain Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus nipalensis
      • Blyth’s Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus alboniger
      • Javan Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus bartelsi
      • Sulawesi Hawk eagle, Spizaetus lanceolatus
      • Philippine Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus philippensis
      • Wallace’s Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus nanus
      • Black Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus tyrannus
      • Ornate Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus ornatus
      • Long-crested Eagle, Lophaetus occipitalis
      • Crowned Hawk Eagle, Stephanoaetus coronatus
      • Martial Eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus
      • Bonelli’s Eagle, Hieraaetus fasciatus
      • Booted Eagle, Hieraaetus pennatus
      • African Hawk-eagle, Hieraaetus spilogaster
      • Little Eagle, Hieraaetus morphnoides
      • Ayres’ Hawk-eagle, Hieraaetus ayresii
      • Rufous-bellied Hawk-eagle, Hieraaetus kienerii
      • Golden Eagle, Aquila chrysaetos
      • Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca
      • Spanish Imperial Eagle Aquila adalberti
      • Steppe Eagle, Aquila nipalensis
      • Tawny Eagle, Aquila rapax
      • Greater Spotted Eagle, Aquila clanga
      • Lesser Spotted Eagle, Aquila pomarina
      • Verreaux’s Eagle, Aquila verreauxii
      • Gurney’s Eagle, Aquila gurneyi
      • Wahlberg’s Eagle, Aquila wahlbergi
      • Wedge-tailed Eagle, Aquila audax
      • Black Eagle, Ictinaetus malayensis
      • White-tailed Eagle, Haliaeetus albicilla
      • Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
      • Steller’s Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus pelagicus
      • African Fish Eagle, Haliaeetus vocifer
      • White-bellied Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus leucogaster
      • Sanford’s Fish Eagle, Haliaeetus sanfordi
      • Madagascar Fish Eagle, Haliaeetus vociferoides
      • Pallas’ Sea Eagle, Haliaeetus leucoryphus
      • Lesser Fish Eagle, Ichthyophaga humilis
      • Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus
    • Subfamily Aegypiinae: Old World vultures
    • Subfamily Circinae: harriers
    • Subfamily Circaetinae: snake-eagles
      • Bateleur, Terathopius ecaudatus
      • Short-toed Eagle, Circaetus gallicus
      • Black-chested Snake-eagle, Circaetus pectoralis
      • Brown Snake-eagle, Circaetus cinereus
      • Fasciated Snake-eagle, Circaetus fasciolatus
      • Banded Snake-eagle, Circaetus cinerascens
      • Crested Serpent-eagle, Spilornis cheela
      • Nicobar Serpent-eagle, Spilornis minimus
      • Mountain Serpent-eagle,Spilornis kinabaluensis
      • Sulawesi Serpent-eagle, Spilornis rufipectus
      • Philippine Serpent-eagle, Spilornis holospilus
      • Andaman Serpent-eagle, Spilornis elgini