Over the course of human history, there are few animals more common in our myths, heraldry, and iconography than the eagle.
For thousands of years humans have been captivated by the eagles unique mixture of power and beauty wherever we find them. This is pretty much everywhere given the fact that eagles can be found on every continent other than Antarctica.
The eagle perfectly encapsulates so many characteristics that we find admirable, like strength, grace, freedom, and beauty. They are essentially the Superman of the animal kingdom.
Though eagles seem vastly different than humans at first glance, our two species actually share a lot in common. From our sense hierarchy, to our mating habits, to our diets, Eagles and humans are surprisingly similar when you forget the whole bird and mammal difference.
Perhaps the surprising similarities between our two species is the reason for our ancient relationship and respect for the eagle. We can see a little bit of who we wish to be in their piercing eyes.
Like most humans, eagles have a hierarchy of the senses they rely on. By hierarchy of senses I mean the senses that we rely on the most to navigate the world.
To illustrate what I mean by a hierarchy of senses, let’s explore the human hierarchy. What senses do we rely on more than the others as we are walking around living our lives?
A number of years ago, John Hopkins Medical School conducted a study where they asked individuals what “the worst ailment that could happen to them” would be. The results of the study showed that of all the physical ailments, a loss of vision was the most common response.
Why? Because for most humans, sight is at the top of our hierarchy of senses. We rely on our sight more than any other sense as we navigate the world.
This does not mean that our other senses are not important, or even that the sense of sight is necessary to navigate the world (Marvel’s superhero Daredevil illustrates the value of our other senses in a fantastical way). But in the hierarchy of our senses, for most humans, sight sits right at the top.
The same is true for eagles but to an even more extreme than humans.
Eagles have extremely powerful eyesight. In fact, an eagle’s eyesight is eight times sharper than a human’s on average…eight times!
Eagles can see up to two miles, and they rely on this superpower to see small prey from far distances. In this way, eagles are similar to most other large birds of prey, which tend to have highly developed, powerful eyes, which they use as they hunt, day or night.
Our reliance on sight is a glaring similarity between humans and eagles, especially when compared to species with alternate sense hierarchies, such as bats, who rely more heavily on hearing than sight.
But Eagles are more extreme in their sense preference than humans, and the result is enhanced eyesight (eight times is a lot of times) coupled with decreased hearing when compared to humans.
On average, a human can hear frequencies within a ten-octave range. Eagles, on the other hand, can only hear within a four-octave range.
Take that eagles. You may have crazy eyesight compared to us, but we can enjoy the melodies of Beyonce better than you.
Another similarity between humans and eagles is our mating habits. Both eagles and humans tend to have long-term partners.
Though having multiple partners is more common among humans than among eagles, both species have shown a pattern of monogamous relationships at a higher frequency than most in the animal kingdom.
Eagles usually have the same partner their entire life. So romantic.
They return to their partners every year during the mating season until one of the partners dies. Still romantic, but significantly more sad than the first statement.
When two humans get married, it is a common colloquialism to say that they are going to build a home together. Though most humans take that as a metaphorical sentiment for starting a family, eagles take it literally.
During mating season, a pair of bonded eagles (a term I am choosing to believe means “two eagles who have fallen madly in love with one another) will build their nest together, as partners. Way to go eagles for championing the parental division of labor.
Eagles nests are called aeries, and they are usually around five to six feet wide and two to four feet tall. Each mating season both eagles will bring more sticks to add to their nests, like a middle age couple finally deciding to renovate their home.
If you’re thinking, this can’t get any more romantic, you would be right because this next part is really going to kill the buzz…literally.
Many species of eagles lay two eggs, and it is normal for the chick that hatches first to kill its younger sibling. Ironically, this motif is common in human mythology and religious imagery (Cain and Abel from the book of Genesis is an example of this motif.)
Eagle parents don’t do anything to stop this killing from happening. It seems that eagles, though majestic, are not good parents.
Imagine the childhood trauma that the eagles who survive childhood carry with them because of their parents…yet another similarity between humans and eagles.
Okay, that joke was dark…but also, it’s not not true…I am sorry.
The final similarity between humans and eagles that we will explore in this article is our diets. Both humans and eagles are classified as omnivores.
Omnivores eat both meat and plants.
Though there are exceptions, such as vegetarians and vegans, humans are classified as omnivores because most humans consume a mixture of meat and plants.
Eagles primarily eat meat, but they also consume some fruit, which earns them their omnivorous title.
The bulk of an eagle’s diet is made up of rodents, fish, eggs, and sometimes even other birds. That means you can add “cannibal” to the list of descriptors used to describe eagles.
They have even been known to eat snakes, and not just because the snake was weirdly included in the bottle of tequila they were gifted from their weird cousin named Kyle who just got back from a cruise to Mexico. The variety in their diet is only equaled by humans from Austin, Texas, who call themselves “foodies” and “are willing to try anything once.”
But in all seriousness, being omnivores is a significant similarity between eagles and humans. It is estimated that omnivores make up only 3% of the animal kingdom and that 3% is where both humans and eagles find themselves.
These three categories illustrate the surprising similarity between humans and eagles. So next time you see an eagle, whether soaring majestically in the sky, or on an overtly nationalist graphic in front of an explosion, remember how you and that eagle are not too different after all.