Eagle vs owl [What the Difference and How to Identify Them]

eagle vs. owl

As apex predators, owls and eagles are fascinating birds of prey.

With massive wingspans, powerful talons, and razor-sharp beaks, these two birds stand out among the crowd.

Although owls and eagles both find themselves at the top of their respective food chains, there are some significant differences between the two.

Owls are primarily nocturnal, while eagles are diurnal. Eagles are also larger and more powerful than owls, live longer, and have stiffer feathers.

Let’s take a deep dive into eagles and owls, how they compare, and how to identify them when you’re out in the wilderness.

What’s The Difference Between an Eagle and An Owl?

Starting from classification, owls (Strigidae & Tytonidae) and eagles (Accipitridae) differ in family.

Because of this, we should expect that they have some key differences in appearance and behavior. Some of these major differences include the following:

How Do Owls And Eagles Compare In Size?

Both eagles and owls come in a large variety of sizes, weights, and wingspans, but on average, eagles are larger and taller than owls.

Owls range from the world’s smallest owl being only 4.9 to 5.7 inches long with a wingspan of 10.5 inches to the largest of the family reaching 28 inches long with a wingspan of 74 inches.

The owls mentioned above are the Elf Owl and the Blakiston’s Fish Owl, named respectively.

As mentioned, eagles are generally larger.

The South Nicobar Serpent Eagle eagle is the smallest of the family and only reaches lengths of 16 inches with a 37-inch wingspan.

The largest of the eagle family, which far out passes that of the owl is the Giant Philippine Eagle, reaching 40 inches long with a massive wingspan of up to 75 inches.

Although the largest eagle is considered to be the Giant Philippine Eagle, others have been recorded with a wider wingspan.

When Are Owls And Eagles Active?

Owls are known for their nighttime activities, which is why they often seem difficult to spot and mysterious.

That said, not all owls are nocturnal, although most are and sleep during the day.

The Northern Hawk Owl, Burrowing Owl, Northern Pygmy owl, and Short-Eared Owl are the only recorded diurnal owls, which are found active predominantly during daylight hours.

Eagles, on the other hand, are only seen actively hunting during the day, which makes them a dedicated diurnal species.

Eagles have a strong sense of sight during the day, however, this is greatly limited after the sun has set, although it remains better than the nighttime vision of humans.

The Difference Between Owls And Eagles Beaks

As they are both birds of prey, both eagles and owls share similarities in their beak types, although there’s a distinct difference.

difference between owls and eagles beaks

Birds of prey generally have strong sharp beaks that end in a downward-pointing tip.

The beaks of carnivorous birds form a sort of hook which allows for a good grip on food and to easily tear meat from their catch.

This remains true for both owls and eagles, however, the beak of an eagle is longer and in most cases stronger than that of an owl.

As eagles tend to feed on larger prey, the added length is better adapted for grasping and tearing through larger sections.

Owls’ beaks, although still razor sharp, are shorter and more curved than that of an eagle, which suits smaller prey such as snakes and mice.

Feathers of Owls Vs Eagles

Owls have very few down-feathers, although they do have down-facing barbules on the contour feathers that grow closest to their skin.

feathers of owls vs eagles

Owls’ feathers are soft and are specially evolved with a comb-like edge of their primary wing feathers.

This function reduces the swooping noise created by a diving bird.

This important adaptation allows owls to remain perched until they spot prey, and then move through the night and hunt in stealth.

Eagles, on the other hand, don’t generally perch and wait for prey but can be found soaring high in the air scouting their surroundings.

Because of this, the eagle’s feathers are stiffer and more smooth. This better supports them in the air, meaning they need less energy while soaring.

Eagles Vs Owls: Characteristics and How to Identify Them

In general, eagles are larger than owls and can be spotted hunting during daylight.

Owls on the other hand are predominantly nocturnal.

That said, if you are looking to spot either an eagle or an owl, you may need a few more identification tips.

How to Identify Eagles

Eagles have large hooked beaks and massive talons that can be easily spotted when perched.

identify eagles

Active only in the daytime, eagles can often be seen soaring high up, observing the landscape.

Eagles closely resemble vultures, however, they are fully feathered.

Eagles tend to nest in high-up, difficult-to-reach places such as cliff edges or tree tops, where they use the same nest year after year.

How to Identify Owls

Owls have large, round eyes that are forward-looking. Their beaks are short and hooked.

identify owls

The feathers of some owl species create a disk-like shape around their face or the addition of ear tufts are used to help capture refracting sound.

Owls can turn their heads 180 degrees, with some species able to rotate them as much as 270 degrees.

Owls can be found during the night and make their homes in buildings, trees, or on the ground, across every continent with Antarctica as an exception.

Identifying FeatureEagleOwl
WingsLong, broad, and pointedLarge and rounded
Wing TipsPointed with fingersSerrated/ Comb like
Flight PatternFew, slow wing beats, soaring high in the airSlow steady wing beats, close to the ground
Head ShapeOval, long and taperingRounded
Beak ShapeLong and hooked at the endShort and hooked at the end
Body ShapeStockySlender
Catching Their PreyUse talons to catch and kill preyUse their beak to catch prey and talons to secure it while eating

Eagle Vs Owl Comparison Table

Do Eagles and Owls Get Along?

Eagles and owls share the same territory, and in many cases, a very similar food source. In the animal kingdom, this is a recipe for a rivalry.

Because owls are nocturnal and eagles are diurnal, you may assume that these two apex predators don’t clash, but that would be far from the truth.

Eagles and owls are in fact enemies, so much so that some ornithologists believe that it is genetically imprinted, however, this is simply a theory.

Do Owls Attack Eagles?

Both these birds are apex predictors and fight for many of the same resources.

Although eagles are larger and stronger than owls, owls have a more powerful wing stroke, are more agile in the air, and most importantly, have the surprise of a nighttime attack.

Owls such as the Great Horned Owl will attack the nests of eagles under the cover of darkness to disrupt them and chase them out of the territory.

As owls have the element of surprise, as well as great nighttime vision, far better than an eagle, their size and power differences are weighed out.

Why Do Eagles Attack Owls?

Because owls have a tendency to destroy the nests of eagles, thus putting their young in danger, owls are seen as a high-level threat to eagles.

The Golden Eagle of North America has been regularly recorded attacking Horned Owls to kill them.

eagles attack owls

Because both these birds are at the top of the food chain, these apex predictors are in constant competition to be the best.

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