13 Of The World’s Largest Birds Of Prey

13 Of The World's Largest Birds Of Prey

Birds of prey, or raptors, are some of the most fascinating creatures in the animal kingdom. Their impressive size, remarkable hunting skills, and awe-inspiring flight abilities make them a captivating sight in the wild.

The world is home to a plethora of raptors, each unique and fascinating in its own right. However, it is the largest birds of prey that often command the most attention due to their sheer size and grandeur.

In this article, we will explore the largest birds of prey in the world, delving into their characteristics, habitats, diets, and unique features.

Understanding Birds of Prey

Before we dive into the details of the largest birds of prey, it’s crucial to understand what constitutes a bird of prey.

Raptors are carnivorous birds characterized by their exceptional eyesight, powerful talons, and hooked beaks designed for tearing flesh.

These magnificent creatures actively hunt and prey on other animals, playing a vital role in keeping ecosystems balanced by controlling the populations of small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Raptors are fascinating for their unique hunting techniques, each species developing unique methods tailored to their environment and prey. From the swift dive of the Peregrine Falcon to the bone-breaking behavior of the Bearded Vulture, the hunting methods of these birds are a testament to their adaptability and predatory prowess.

Raptors are widely revered and have held significant cultural symbolism throughout history. From being considered sacred in ancient cultures to being national symbols in modern times, these birds have had a profound impact on human societies.

However, despite their majestic presence and critical ecological roles, many raptor species are facing threats due to habitat loss, hunting, and other human-induced factors.

13 Biggest Birds Of Prey

Now, let’s take a look at some of the largest birds of prey in the world. Note that in determining this list, we had to consider three main factors – body size, wingspan, and weight. As such, there is no exact definitive list of the largest birds of prey since a combination of these elements must be considered.

For example, a bird may have the largest wingspan but another might be the heaviest. How then, would we define the largest bird? Rather, this list includes the birds that are considered to be the largest based on a combination of these factors.

1. The Andean Condor – The Soaring Giant

The Andean Condor

Considered one of the largest flying birds on the planet, the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) is a sight to behold.

This massive bird of prey is renowned for its impressive wingspan that can reach up to 10.5 feet and a hefty weight ranging between 17 to 33 pounds. Its body length ranges from 3 ft 3 in – 4 ft 3 in.

This majestic creature is primarily found in the Andean mountain range and the adjacent Pacific coasts of western South America. It primarily feeds on carrion, but occasionally preys on small mammals and birds when the opportunity arises.

Fun Fact: The Andean Condor is one of the world’s longest-living birds, with a lifespan reaching over 70 years in some cases.

2. Lammergeier – The Bone-Breaker

Lammergeier

Also known as the Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus), the Lammergeier is a fascinating bird of prey with a wingspan of approximately 7.5 to 9.5 feet and a weight of 11 to 15 pounds. Known for its unique “bone-breaking” behavior, this bird feeds on carcasses, particularly focusing on the bones and bone marrow.

Fun Fact: The Lammergeier has a distinct red coloration on its head and neck, giving it the nickname “the bearded vulture.”

3. Steller’s Sea Eagle – The Heaviest Eagle

Steller’s Sea Eagle

Regarded as the heaviest eagle in the world, the Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) can weigh between 11 to 20 pounds, making it a formidable bird of prey. With a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet, this large bird typically inhabits coastal areas in northeastern Asia and feeds primarily on fish and water birds. The Steller’s Sea Eagle is easily distinguished by its very large and powerful, yellow beak.

Fun Fact: Initially described as Aquila pelagica by Peter Simon Pallas in 1811, the Steller’s sea eagle was named after German naturalist Georg Wilhelm Steller and is officially recognized by the International Ornithologists’ Union (IOU). The species name ‘pelagica’ stems from Ancient Greek, meaning “the open sea/ocean”.

4. Golden Eagle – The Swift Hunter

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), with a wingspan of 6 to 7.5 feet and a weight of 7 to 14 pounds, is a formidable aerial predator. It is remarkable for its swift hunting dives, with some reaching speeds of over 150 miles per hour. Golden Eagles primarily feed on small to medium-sized mammals, birds, and carrion.

Fun Fact: Golden Eagles have been observed hunting and killing animals as large as deer, making them one of the few birds of prey capable of taking down such large prey.

5. Himalayan Vulture – The Mountain Scavenger

Himalayan Vulture

The Himalayan Vulture (Gyps himalayensis), with its impressive wingspan of up to 9.2 feet and a weight range of 13 to 28 pounds, is one of the largest Old World vultures.

This raptor primarily inhabits the high-altitude areas of the Himalayas.

As scavengers, they play a crucial role in the ecosystem by feeding on carrion and bone marrow. Their head is covered with a unique hood of light yellow or cream-colored feathers, distinguishing them from other vultures.

Fun Fact: The Himalayan Vulture is an expert at breaking bones and can swallow them whole, aiding in digestion.

6. Eurasian Owl Eagle – The Silent Hunter

Eurasian Owl Eagle

The Eurasian Owl Eagle (Bubo bubo) is one of the largest and most powerful owl species. With a wingspan of over 5 feet and a weight range of 4 to 9 pounds, it is a skilled hunter that preys on small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

This elusive bird has excellent hearing and sight, making it a silent hunter. Its long, feathered ear tufts give it a unique appearance.

Fun Fact: The Eurasian Owl Eagle is known to hunt at night with its sharp talons and powerful beak, making it one of the few birds of prey that are active during both day and night.

7. California Condor – The Surviving Wonder

California Condor
  • Wingspan: 8.2 to 9.8 ft
  • Body Length: 3.6 to 4.6 ft
  • Weight: 17 – 25 lbs

With a wingspan that can reach up to 9.8 feet and a weight that ranges from 17 to 25 pounds, the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) stands as one of the largest birds of prey in North America.

This bird’s striking features include its largely black body with white patches underneath its wings and a featherless, vibrant, pinkish-orange head. These gigantic birds prefer to nest in cliff caves, rock crevices, or redwood hollows rather than building their own nests. Their diet mainly consists of carrion, including deer, cattle, sheep, and rabbits.

Fun Fact: This species was once on the brink of extinction, with only 22 individuals remaining in the wild in 1987. Thanks to conservation efforts (including the California Condor Recovery Program), their population has now grown to over 500 birds. A true survivor indeed!

8. Harpy Eagle – The Mighty Hunter

Harpy Eagle

Known as the most powerful bird in the world, the Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is a top predator in its range, which covers Central and South America. This eagle is instantly recognizable by its striking crest of feathers on its head that can be raised or lowered depending on its mood.

With a wingspan of up to 6.5 feet, the Harpy Eagle’s talons are known to be the largest and strongest among all birds of prey, capable of exerting a pressure of up to and over 400 pounds per square inch.

Fun Fact: The Harpy Eagle is named after the Greek mythological creature, Harpy, which was depicted as a bird with a woman’s face. This eagle has also been featured on the coat of arms of Panama and on the reverse side of the 500 Panamanian Balboa bill.

9. Lappet-Faced Vulture – The Aggressive Scavenger

With a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet and a weight of 13 to 26 pounds, the Lappet-Faced Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) is one of the largest birds of prey in the world. These vultures are considered to be one of the more aggressive birds of prey due to their large size and assertive feeding behavior. They feed primarily on carrion, including large mammal carcasses.

Fun Fact: Of all vulture species, this one boasts the most powerful beak, capable of effortlessly ripping through the tough hide of nearly any creature.

10. Eurasian Black Vulture – The Old World Giant

Eurasian Black Vultures

As one of the largest birds of prey in the world, the Eurasian Black Vulture (Aegypius monachus), also known as the Cinereous Vulture, commands attention and respect.

This gigantic raptor can reach a wingspan of up to 10 feet and weigh approximately 21 pounds.

As a scavenger, it primarily feeds on carrion, including large mammal carcasses. With their stern gaze and largely featherless head, the Eurasian Black Vulture has a resemblance to both eagles and vultures, highlighting its unique place in the bird kingdom.

Fun Fact: The Eurasian Black Vulture is the largest Old World vulture and the largest member of the Accipitridae family.

11. Philippine Eagle – The Monkey-Eater

Philippine Eagle

The Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), also known as the Monkey-eating Eagle, is one of the largest and most powerful eagles in the world. With a wingspan of 6.5 to 7 feet and a weight of 13 to 18 pounds, this eagle is a truly formidable bird of prey. It primarily feeds on monkeys, flying lemurs, and other small mammals, making it a highly specialized hunter.

Fun Fact: The Philippine eagle is the only bird of prey with blue eyes. Plus, its vision is eight times sharper than a human’s, making it an exceptional hunter.

12. African Crowned Eagle – The King of the Forest

The African Crowned Eagle (Stephanoaetus coronatus) is one of the most impressive birds in Africa, often referred to as the “King of the Forest.” With a wingspan of up to 6 feet and weighing around 11 pounds, this eagle is powerful enough to take down prey twice its own weight. It primarily feeds on mammals such as monkeys, antelopes, and small deer. The African Crowned Eagle is a master of stealth, using its large size and incredible eyesight to surprise its prey from above.

Fun Fact: This eagle gets its “crowned” name from the distinctive golden feathers on its head that resemble a crown. These feathers are used in traditional African ceremonies and are highly valued.

13. Martial Eagle – The Soaring Hunter

Martial Eagle

The Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus) is one of the largest eagles in Africa and one of the world’s most powerful birds. It has a wingspan of over 6 feet and can weigh an average of around 10 lbs, making it a true giant of the skies.

This formidable bird primarily feeds on small mammals such as hares, mongooses, and small antelopes. Its strong talons and sharp beak allow it to take down prey with ease.

Fun Fact: The martial eagle is one of the few eagle species that hunt primarily from a high soar, swooping down on its prey with impressive precision.

Types Of Raptors

Did you know there are in fact several types of raptors? Here is a brief overview of each one.

Eagles

Eagles are the heavyweights of the raptor family. With their long, broad wings and fan-shaped tails, they are built for soaring.

These very large raptors have a tail length twice that of their head and neck, allowing them to glide effortlessly with a few wingbeats.

Eagles primarily feed on small to medium-sized mammals.

Buteos

Buteos are robust birds with broad, rounded wings and a fan-shaped tail.

These medium to large hawks are masters of the thermal currents, often seen soaring without a flap for long periods. They have a varied diet that includes rodents, reptiles, and insects. Common buteos include the large ferruginous hawk the red-tailed hawk, the rough-legged hawk, and Swainson’s hawk.

Accipiters

Accipiters are designed for dexterity. With short, rounded wings and a long tail, these small to medium-sized raptors can make rapid wingbeats followed by glides, a flight pattern that serves them well in forested environments. They primarily prey on birds and small mammals. The Northern goshawk, Cooper’s hawk, and sharp-shinned hawk are common accipiters.

Harriers and Osprey

The Northern harrier and osprey stand out for their distinctive hunting methods and belong to their own unique families. Harriers, with their V-shaped flying pattern, skim low over fields and marshes, while ospreys dive into water to catch fish, a spectacle of precision and agility.

Falcons

Falcons are recognized by their long, narrow, pointed wings and rapid wingbeats. These raptors are famous for their high-speed dives, known as stoops, which they use to strike prey in mid-air.

Common falcon species include the prairie falcon, peregrine falcon, merlin, and the American kestrel.

Vultures

Vultures may not hunt like other raptors, but their role in the ecosystem is vital.

They are large black raptors that soar in groups, often seen gliding in a strong “V” shape. These raptors feed almost exclusively on carrion and have a remarkable tolerance for microbial toxins.

Owls

Owls are diverse in size but share common traits such as large, round heads, forward-facing eyes, and a feathered facial disk. They hunt silently at night, using their exceptional hearing and vision to locate prey. Owls can rotate their heads up to 270 degrees, allowing them to scan their surroundings without moving their bodies.

Kites

Kites are medium-sized raptors with long, pointed wings and a graceful flight pattern. They can hover in the wind, much like the children’s toys named after them. Some kites, like the snail kite, have a highly specialized diet and beak adaptations for extracting snails.

Besides these more common birds of prey, there is also the secretarybird and seriemas.

The secretarybird stands alone as a unique species characterized by its large body and elongated, stilt-like legs. This bird calls the expansive grasslands of Sub-Saharan Africa its home. Similarly, in South America, you can find Seriemas, which are large birds that also possess long, stilted legs and occupy an ecological role akin to that of the secretarybirds. Intriguingly, these Seriemas are the nearest living relatives to the now-extinct “terror birds”.

The Importance of Birds of Prey Conservation

While the size and strength of these birds of prey are awe-inspiring, many of these species face threats due to habitat loss, hunting, and other human-induced factors.

Conservation efforts are crucial for these majestic birds’ survival and for preserving their habitats. Protecting natural habitats, restoring degraded habitats, implementing anti-poaching measures, and supporting rehabilitation and release programs are some of the key ways to help protect raptors and their habitats.

By understanding their importance, learning about their characteristics, and supporting conservation efforts, we can contribute to preserving these majestic birds and their habitats for generations to come.

The world of birds of prey is filled with diversity, majesty, and wonder. These largest birds of prey in the world are a testament to nature’s ingenuity and awe-inspiring prowess. They are not just symbols of strength and power, but also vital components of the ecosystems that they inhabit. So next time you see a raptor soaring in the sky, take a moment to appreciate its grandeur and the crucial role it plays in maintaining the balance of nature.

Leave a Comment