Eagle Adaptations: The Beak

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An eagle's whole head is designed for its fishing and scavenging lifestyle.

  • Its head is covered with protective feathers. As the bird reaches maturity at 4 - 6 years of age, the dark brown feathers on its head are replaced with white ones. Adults keep that "bald" head for life. Eagles of the opposite sex will recognize this one as a potential mate, and eagles of the same sex will respect its territorial boundaries. Although eagles eat roadkill, they take most of it in winter when dead animals are frozen and aren't likely to be covered with maggots, so they don't need the featherless heads of vultures.
  • Eagles have excellent hearing, even though we can't see their ears. The ears, behind their eyes, are protected by a layer of feathers.
  • Their sense of smell is probably no better than ours. Eagles have some bristly feathers protecting their nostrils.
  • Eagles eat a lot of fish and scavenge on a lot of dead animals. It's hard to be sure how well developed their sense of taste is. They have few tastebuds, and their tongue is muscular and shorter than their beak so they can't bite it.
  • The beak is strong and thick, and sharply pointed at the downward tip to rip into a fish or a frozen roadkill, but the mouth is wide enough at the gape (the "corners" of the mouth, where the upper and lower beak meet) to handle fairly big chunks. Although the beak is clearly designed for ripping apart meat, parent eagles can also use it to tenderly feed and groom their babies.