The Surprising Truth About Bald Eagles and Songbirds

I photographed this Bald Eagle eating a bird at the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. The Eagle was perched on a large cottonwood tree limb above the auto tour road. The bird that it is eating looks like a Brown Thrasher to me.

Bald Eagle Standing On Dead Bird
Bald Eagle Standing On Dead Bird

While Bald Eagles primarily feast on fish, their opportunistic nature finds them occasionally indulging in feathered snacks. Here’s some unique info about their relationship with songbirds:

Targeted Opportunism: While they won’t engage in aerial acrobatics chasing agile songbirds, eagles exploit specific situations. They might snatch fledglings leaving the nest, target birds weakened by harsh weather, or opportunistically grab them if caught near a kill they’re scavenging.

Size Matters (but not always): Smaller songbirds are preferred targets, making robins, jays, and swallows vulnerable. However, larger eagles like Golden Eagles have been known to take down crows and even small turkeys!

Kleptoparasitism: Bald Eagles sometimes employ “robbery,” swooping in to steal songbirds’ hard-earned catches mid-air. Imagine a hawk painstakingly capturing a songbird, only to see it snatched by a majestic bald eagle cruising by!

Seasonal Shifts: Winter’s scarcity can see a slight increase in songbird predation. With fish less abundant, eagles might turn to readily available smaller birds to tide them over.

Niche Specialists: Interestingly, some Bald Eagle populations specialize in specific songbird species depending on their local environment. In Florida, some eagles have adapted to snatching elusive clapper rails from the marshes.

Ecological Balancing Act: While it might seem unfair to songbirds, their predation by eagles is part of the natural cycle. It helps control songbird populations, preventing them from exploding and disrupting the ecosystem.

Conservation Connection: The decline of songbird populations due to habitat loss can inadvertently affect eagles. With fewer songbirds available, eagles might be forced to rely more heavily on endangered fish populations, impacting their own conservation efforts.

Bald Eagle Eating Dead Bird
Bald Eagle Eating Dead Bird

Gear Used:

  • Camera: Canon 7D
  • Lens: Canon EF 500 mm f/4L IS


  • Location: Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge (Oklahoma)
  • Date & Time Taken: February 12, 2014 (02:47 P.M.)
  • Aperture Priority
  • Aperture: f5.0
  • Shutter speed: 1/6400 sec. (as determined by the camera)
  • ISO: 640
  • Exposure Compensation: -2/3
  • Focal Length: 500 mm