In the Field

All About Eagle Talons – Bald Eagle Facts

All About Eagle Talons – Bald Eagle Facts

Some time ago, I did a blog article and video on the subject of bear claws in which I separated fact from fiction concerning these legendary appendages. In this article, we’ll take a similar look at the topic of eagle talons, as there are likewise many myths and fanciful stories surrounding these extraordinary bird body parts.

The long, nimble, sharp talons of eagles and other birds of prey are portrayed in a variety of cultures as a symbol of power, primal tenacity, and ferocity. In fact, recent studies have found that even the Neanderthals had great admiration for these enormous raptors and placed perhaps even spiritual significance on them by using eagle talons as symbolic elements such as necklaces and a variety of pendants.

 

What do Eagles Use Their Talons For?

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Bald eagles are carnivores, and as I explored in another recent video, they sustain themselves on a steady diet of fish, the meat of a variety of animals that they prey on, and the carrion that they scavenge. Eagles use their long, sharp talons while hunting their food in order to hold on to sometimes very slippery meals and to help tear it apart while eating it. They also use their talons as weapons to defend themselves from a potential threat, as well as fighting with rival eagles…sometimes to the death!

 

How Long are Eagle Talons?

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Eagles have a total of four toes on their feet. Similar in movement to our human hands, three of an eagle’s toes act as fingers and one opposing toe grips much like our thumbs. The talons on an eagle’s three front toes are around two inches in length, while the talon on the opposing toe (referred to as the hallux talon) differs between males and females. The female’s rear talon is about the same size as her front talons – around two inches – and the males are typically a little shorter.

 

How Strong Are Eagle Talons?

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Eagle talons are made from a hard protein called keratin…the same thing our human fingernails are made from, and they grown and develop much long the nails of a dog, though much longer and pointier. The real strength of an eagle’s grip doesn’t so much come from their talons, but rather, from their leg muscles and tendons. Scientists believe that a bald eagle’s grip is about ten times stronger than the grip of an adult human and can exert 400 to 1000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

 

Eagle Talon Myths?

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A popular myth concerning the talons of the bald eagle is that once they aggressively grab ahold of a prey item, the talons get stuck in place and they can’t easily let go. This myth has developed mostly from eagles being observed grabbing ahold of a large fish which either pulls it underwater and sometimes even drowns the eagle, or, the eagle will end up having to actually swim back to shore while towing the fish along instead of simply letting go, regrouping, and going after a smaller fish. This is another topic that I’ve made a recent video about. The truth is that there is no involuntary locking mechanism in an eagle’s foot or talons. Eagles are incredibly determined critters and when they find a prized meal, they’ll do all they can to keep it..which is the topic of yet another recent video I did about a bald eagle who went as far as taking on a Kodiak brown bear and her cub.  So when an eagle grabs ahold of a fish that’s too big to carry, many times they simply choose not to let go, even though they may put themselves at risk as a result.

So there you have it. That’s an overview of the talon characteristics and capabilities of the mighty and majestic bald eagle. Check out the video below to see more…

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