Dine with bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and eat fresh-caught fish, duck, muskrat or turtle. Eagle beaks and talons are avian forks and knives needed for survival. Eagles snag meals using powerful talons designed to grab and hold food, especially slippery fish. Strong, bright yellow, curved eagle beaks tear through fur, skin or gills to reach delectable meat. Daily meal routines are one way eagles keep beaks and talons sharp and trimmed.
Bird beaks are bony structures covered in keratin, the same protein substance comprising human fingernails. Keratin layers provide strength and a beak's glossy appearance. Like fingernails, dried keratin layers grow; but daily routines keep beaks from getting too long. Eagles sharpen and cleanse beaks through a process called feaking. Eagles wipe beaks back and forth; alternating beak sides; across rocks or tree limbs. Feaking removes debris and keeps beaks sharpened.
The powerful leg muscles and razor-sharp talons work together to capture prey. Eagles have four toes: one back-facing, called the hallux, and three facing forward. The nonprofit organization, Hawkquest, notes an eagle's grip is "about 10 times stronger than the grip of an adult human hand" and exerts in excess of 400 pounds per square inch. This grabbing and holding of prey in water, or on rocks and tree limbs help keep eagle talons manicured.
More Grooming Activities
Eagles engage in other routines impacting beaks and talons. Eagles are very territorial; they have been spotted in the air with talons locked together. The nest building process requires retrieving and relocating of sticks. An average nest, called an aerie, measures 5 feet in diameter. That's a lot of sticks. Ornithologists at Cornell University write eagles like toys. They play with plastic bottles or pass sticks to one another while airborne.
A poacher's bullet shattered the beak of an Alaskan bald eagle. Found emaciated, near death and essentially with no upper beak, Jane Fink Cantwell from Birds of Prey Northwest, brought the eagle to Idaho for rehabilitation, where it remains. Named Beauty, the eagle thrived on tube feedings. Engineer Nate Calvin learned of Beauty's plight and designed an artificial beak. Beauty now eats and preens thanks to Calvin's design, a 3-D printer and the talent of Calvin's personal dentist.
- Smithsonian National Zoological Park: Meet Our Animals: Bald Eagle
- Project Beak: Adaptations: Feed Me
- Hawkquest: Gripping Strength of an Eagle
- American Bald Eagle Information: Bald Eagle - Nesting & Young
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds: Bald Eagle
- Beauty and the Beak Project
- 3D Printer World: Beauty the Bald Eagle Gets a New 3D Printed Beak
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images