Animals -> Birds -> Birds of Prey -> Eagles


Eagles were reported to have been consumed by cultures including the Gulf of Georgia Salish, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Kitsumkalum, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Tlingit, Kaska and Huron, among others [1-8]. Among the Sanya and Yakutat Tlingit, eagle was only used for food if absolutely necessary [9]. It was one of the only birds of prey eaten by the Red Earth Cree [10]. However, some cultures rejected the idea of consuming eagle; these include the Gitksan (Gitxsan), some Alaskan cultures including Kutchin (Gwich’in) and Chilkat, Fort Nelson Slave (Dene) and others [3, 11-16]. Nootka of Vancouver Island sometimes ate eagle in fall when the bird was fat from eating salmon [1]. Eagles are reported to have been abundant for the Algonquian and Iroquoian of the Mississippi and Ohio valleys and the Great Lakes [17]. Bald Eagles are reported to have been eaten by the Kwakiutl and Tlingit [2, 18]. Both the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle were hunted for food by the Hare (Sahtu) [19].

Methods used to obtain eagles included bows and arrows, nets, traps (pit-traps and snares), decoys and hooks. Among the Coast Salish of Nanaimo, eagles were lured with dead fish. The approaching eagle was caught in a foot hook, which was attached to a long pole held by the hunter who hid behind a blind made of brush [20]. The Upper Stalo of the Fraser Valley are reported to have used arrows, nets and traps to capture eagles [21]. In the Southern Yukon, eagles were also shot with bow and arrow [22]. The Plains Ojibwa hunter from Sakimay Reserve would dig a pit on a bluff and cover it with a screen of branches, then hide in the pit. The man used a stuffed rabbit decoy, made by his wife, to bait the end of a stick. When the eagle approached, it would be shot [23].

The Coast Salish are reported to have fire-roasted or steamed (using hot rocks) the flesh. They also boiled it in boxes filled with water and hot rocks [20].

Eagle feathers and down were highly esteemed by many and were often used in rituals, making snares and arrows, and decorating clothing [20, 24-26]. Many cultures, including Shuswap and Flathead, hunted eagle for the feathers using a pit-trapping method. A hunter would hide in a pit covered by grass and brush. Above his head a crossbar was fixed by stakes and baited with salmon. As the eagle flew towards the bait, the hunter would seize the bird’s legs and pull out its tail feathers. The eagles were usually released, but on occasion they were killed and skinned [25, 27, 28]. The Kutenai (Kootenai) caught young eagles in a similar manner. A hunter would hide in a pit covered by brush and bait, waiting to grab hold of his victim. The Kutenai believed that an adult bird could only be captured by a person having Eagle powers, usually a shaman [25]. Rabbit meat is reported to have been used as bait in the pit-trapping method by Apachean cultures (Southwestern Apache, Navajo), Hopi, Plains Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Nez Perce, Hidatsa, Seneca and Eastern Cherokee, among others. These cultures also only took the feathers, releasing the bird afterwards [29].

Other cultures also placed great importance on eagle feathers. Nootka of Vancouver Island hunted them for the feathers [1]. The Han used snares baited with caribou lung to trap the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle to obtain the feathers [30]. Yukon cultures shot the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle for their wing feathers and sinew to use in headdresses and snares [22]. The feather’s spine could be used in snares, and the whole feather could also be used in arrows or in rituals [31].

The feathers of Bald and Golden Eagles were sought by the Kalispel, and a feather from a young golden eagle was most prized because of its black tip [26]. The Golden and Bald Eagles were greatly respected by many Indigenous Peoples who used these birds as clan symbols [29]. Arrows were made by the Tahltan with eagle feathers, especially with the feathers of a golden eagle; these were said to bring good luck in hunting [32]. In some Arctic dances, women held wands made of golden eagle feathers. These feathers were also good talismans for whaling [24]. The Flathead considered the eagle the mightiest of birds and wore its feather in the dances of the Mid-Summer Festival of Thanksgiving [33].

Eagle feathers were often thought to make the best arrow vanes. The Kaska took two or three feathers directly from the nest to craft each arrow [3]. Northwest Coast cultures also decorated their arrows and head-bands with eagle feathers [34]. The Nuxalk, Nootka and Vanta Kutchin used eagle feathers to tip their arrows. A small animal would hear the wind in the feathers and believe an eagle to be approaching. When the animal froze in terror, the hunter could easily catch him [35-37].

There were many beliefs associated with the eagle. Young Coast Salish men would seek out an eagle spirit to receive great powers from the revered bird [38]. Eagle down was used in hunting rituals by the Coast Salish. To prepare for a seal hunt, a man would sprinkle eagle down on his head after cleaning and oiling his body. In another ritual, a young man would bring home his first kill, paint the animal’s head with red ochre and sprinkle it with eagle down. Eagle down was also sprinkled on the heads of the first-killed goat or bear of the season. This practice was believed to ensure many good hunts to follow [20]. Yukon cultures told fantastical stories of eagles. One such legend tells of the fearsome Bald Eagle who ate men [22]. The Blackfoot believed the eagle to be the chief of all birds [39]. Shuswap hunters believed that one should never hit an eagle with his best arrow [28]. The Canadian Sioux reportedly had a rule whereby one was to wait four days after killing an eagle to pluck the feathers [23].

Certain months were associated with the eagle. The Kaska referred to the month of March as “eagle coming moon” to signify the return of game and food after a long, cold winter. Similarly, April was sometimes known as “big eagle flies moon” [3]. Eagles were kept as pets by several Thompson (N'laka'pamux) and Southern Okanagan families. Young eagles were taken from their nests and held in cages. Their long tail-feathers were sometimes taken for decorations. The Hopi were known to tether eagles to roofs before killing them in ritual ceremonies [29, 40].


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2.         Suttles W (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990.

3.         Honigmann JJ: The Kaska Indians: An Ethnographic Reconstruction. New Haven: Yale University Press; 1954.

4.         Oberg K: The Social Economy of the Tlingit Indians. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press; 1973.

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8.         Cox BA. In: Native People, Native Lands. edn. Ottawa: Carleton University Press; 1992.

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10.       Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

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Eagles are large birds of prey and are members of the same family as the hawks. Like other birds of prey, they have a hooked beak to tear flesh, strong legs with sharp talons to grasp their prey, and very keen eye sight. They have long, broad wings, reaching over 2 m in length, and a wide tail. In eagles, like in hawks and owls, females are larger than males and adult plumage develops over several years. They are monogamous, most often forming lifetime couples, and solitary nesters building stick nests that can be reused year after years. Eagles hunt during the day, most often soaring alone in the air and diving down for prey. They feed on a variety of live animals, but also on carrion. Most eagles are long-distance migrants, traveling from southern wintering areas to northern summer breeding grounds [1]. In North America, species of eagles include the Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).

The Bald Eagle, well-known for its distinctive white head and tail, is a widespread species with breeding populations in all Canadian Provinces and almost in all American states. They are among the largest of North American birds, with wing span close to 2.5 m and weighing up to 6.3 kg. Bald Eagles progressively attain their adult appearance over their first four to five years, changing from a mottled dark brown plumage with dark eyes, beak, and feet to a uniform dark brown plumage on the body and wings, a white head and tail, and yellow eyes, beak, and feet. Most populations migrate, most often flying alone, but individuals can congregate at common feeding or roosting sites, and are known to track salmon spawning runs. During the summer breeding season, Bald Eagles generally nest in the highest trees close to large lakes. They usually spend winter along major rivers or coastal areas. In all seasons, bald eagles are usually associated with open water around which they forage principally for fish, but also for birds, mammals, and carrion. Bald Eagles do not begin breeding until five or more years of age and can live for up to 30 years [2].

The Golden Eagle is common throughout western North America and occurs more rarely in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador, and around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. They are also one of the largest birds in North America, reaching a wing span over 2 m and weighing up to 6 kg. Adult plumage is entirely dark brown, except for paler, golden feathers on the crown, side of the necks, rear underparts, and upper wings. They have dark brown eyes, a black beak, and yellow feet. Northernmost populations can migrate over 5,000 km between their breeding and wintering range, while southernmost populations do not migrate at all. Golden Eagles prefer open habitats, like tundra, grassland, or mountainous canyon, and are sometimes associated with riparian areas. They feed mainly on mammals, including hares, squirrels, and marmots, but also on upland fowl and carrion. Golden Eagles do not begin breeding until five or more years of age and can live for over 20 years [3].


1.         Sibley D: The Sibley guide to bird life and behavior. New York, NY, USA: Alfred A. Knopf; 2001.

2.         Buehler DA: Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2000.

3.         Kochert MN, Steenhof K, Mcintyre CL, Craig EH: Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2002.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Bald Eagle
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Dave Menke
Golden Eagle
Supplier: Wikimedia Commons
Photographer: Juan Lacruz


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