How Much Can a Bald Eagle Lift?

Here it is—just as it happened, recently in the lower Susquehanna valley.

A Bald Eagle in search of a meal.
The eagle glides in and grabs an unsuspecting Common Carp, the bird’s momentum and a head wind helping it to raise the fish out of the water.  This particular carp appears to be eighteen to twenty-four inches in length.  In that range, it could weigh anywhere from four to ten pounds or more.
But as the eagle tries to flap its wings to carry the carp skyward, it loses lift, and the weight of the fish drags the raptor down.  A carp exceeding twenty inches in length usually weighs more than five pounds, approximately half the mass of a male (about 9 lbs.) or a female (about 12 lbs.) Bald Eagle.  From a dead stop, trying to extricate a submerged fish weighing half as much again as it does is an impossible task for this or any other Bald Eagle.
The eagle fights briefly to pull the carp from the water, then abandons the effort to instead release its talons from the fish to prevent its own demise by drowning.
Free of its hold on the carp, the eagle flaps its wings briskly to get up and out of the potentially deadly situation.
Both the eagle and, presumably, the carp survive the encounter.
The eagle finds a nearby tree limb where it takes a much-needed break from fishing.
Such an event may have been fatal to an inexperienced younger Bald Eagle.  Though not an adult, this bird is no spring chicken.  Its plumage, particularly its white head with a dark line through the eye (often called an “osprey face”), is indicative of a bird in its fourth year of life.  By this time next year, it should be sporting a full set of adult feathers.  In the meantime, it should stick to eating suckers; there are plenty of those to go around.
Common Carp are classified as a minnow (Cyprinidae).  They are indigenous to Europe and are raised as a food fish in many parts of the world.  In the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed, Common Carp are an introduced species with negative impacts on native fisheries.  Those exceeding twenty inches in length begin to gain girth and weight, sometimes reaching thirty pounds at thirty inches.


Sedaghat, Safoura, Seyed Abbas Hoseini, Mohammad Larijani, and Khadijeh Shamekhi Ranjbar.  2013.  “Age and Growth of Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio Linnaeus, 1758) in Southern Caspian Sea, Iran”.  World Journal of Fish and Marine Sciences.  5:1.  pp.71-73.

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