Do Eagles Bite Biologists?

When admiring the photos taken on Golden Eagle A20's capture day, we couldn?t stop wondering, why doesn't the eagle turn its head and BITE? So we asked Pete if eagles bite biologists.

?Absolutely, eagles will bite!? he responded immediately. ?It is of grave concern, believe me. I have many scars and chunks out of the backs of my hands to prove it! But they prefer to use their feet.

?The eagles always seem to look so calm, but in reality, holding them is a test of strength and of careful positioning. Once they are firmly gathered up under the arm, securing the feet firmly and containing the wings, are key. (If the wings are loose they will also often use them as weapons to try to beat you.) If they detect 'loose' control, they'll struggle, but if they resist some and sense it is useless, they get the idea and relax a bit.

?Even under such holding, their next option is to strike out and bite. Some try to bite more than others. Some even keep trying to bite with a hood on. But, you'll usually notice in such pictures that the holder is leaning away a bit. The key is to keep just the right distance from them, (face to face), so if they try to strike out, they can't reach.

?Even nestlings are a threat. Their bills are rapier-sharp, needed for quick food ripping from tough fish. They quickly draw blood. The feet and legs of nestlings are usually not yet well-muscled and strong when we band them, so in contrast to the flighted birds, those are not the problem. It is the beaks they use at a young age.?


Pete and Kathy discuss the challenges of capturing eagles >>

"I’ve had a foot across my hand once or twice and it’s very difficult to extract. Once they lock down on you, it’s very tough. You need at least two people to help pry those things out. So you can't be too careful with their feet. And their bills are extremely sharp also. They can rip flesh in an instant." (Link to video and full transcript.)