A wedge-tailed eagle
A young wedge-tailed eagle lands during flight training in Sydney. Image by Dean Lewins/AAP IMAGES

Australian-US eagle comparison doesn’t fly

AAP FactCheck November 1, 2021

The Australian wedge-tailed eagle is the largest eagle in the world while the American bald eagle is one of the smallest.


 False. The Steller's sea eagle is believed to be the largest eagle in the world. The wedge-tailed and bald eagles are similar sizes.

What’s the biggest eagle in the world? According to an Australian Facebook post comparing the American bald eagle and the Australian wedge-tailed eagle, the antipodean raptor is “the largest eagle in the world” while its US counterpart is “one of the smallest eagles” and “basically a glorified seagull” that “only eats fish.”

However, experts told AAP FactCheck that the claims failed to fly. The Steller’s sea eagle is generally considered the world’s largest eagle, although there are many different ways to measure the size of birds of prey.

Steve Debus, a raptor expert and ecologist at the University of New England in Armidale, has studied birds of prey across Australia for 40 years. He told AAP FactCheck in an email that the meme’s claims about the sizes of both birds were “rubbish”.

Dr Debus said large eagles vary in size according to habitat and lifestyle, and measurements depend on whether you’re comparing weight, overall length or wingspan. 

He said the wedge-tailed eagle was a lanky, long-winged raptor, but it was far from the heaviest.

“There are about eight species that are heavier to much heavier (two to three times heavier, i.e. larger-bodied) than the wedge-tail and several more that are similar in weight and wingspan,” Dr Debus said.

“The bald eagle is on average about a kilo or so heavier than the wedge-tail, and with a similar wingspan, so it is slightly the larger.”

The wedge-tailed eagle typically has a wingspan of 2.3m and a weight of between 3.2kg and 5.3kg depending on the bird’s gender, according to the Australian Museum’s website.

In comparison, the bald eagle can weigh up to 6.3kg with a wingspan of more than 2.4m, the US Fish & Wildlife Service says.

The eagle comparison meme
 A meme compares the American bald eagle unfavourably to the Australian wedge-tailed eagle. 

Dominique Potvin, an ornithologist and lecturer in animal ecology at the University of the Sunshine Coast, wrote an article comparing the Australian and American eagles earlier this year. 

“The wedge-tailed eagle is ÔǪ not the largest eagle,” she told AAP FactCheck in an email. 

“It’s in the top five though, for wingspan, length and body mass. Depending on what you’re actually using to measure the ‘largest’ and ‘smallest’, the results can vary.”

Dr Debus pointed out the meme’s other claims about bald eagles were also wrong.

“The Facebook post on the bald eagle does it a great disservice. It is one of several large to very large sea or fish eagles that hunt other prey too, besides fish, and are much more than glorified seagulls (which they can catch and eat),” he said.

Ornithologists and education resources (here and here) consider the Steller’s sea eagle, found in Russia and parts of Asia, to be a leading contender as the largest eagle, while Guinness World Records confirmed it as the grand champion among eagles. The rare and powerful eagle boasts a wingspan that can reportedly reach almost three metres.

“Steller’s sea eagle usually gets the title (of largest eagle),” Dr Potvin said, noting that they can weigh up to nine kilograms. “That’s pretty heavy for a flying bird.”

Both experts said the smallest eagle is considered to be the aptly-named pygmy eagle of Papua New Guinea.

“The smallest eagles in the world are only half the size of the wedge-tailed or bald eagles,” Dr Debus said.

The comparison of the two eagles has previously been fact-checked here.

The Verdict

The Australian wedge-tailed eagle is not the largest eagle in the world, nor is the American bald eagle one of the smallest. Rather, the two birds of prey are generally of similar sizes.

Species in Russia and Papua New Guinea take the titles of the largest and smallest eagles respectively, according to experts.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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