Fact Check

If a Bald Eagle Loses a Feather, Will It Symmetrically Shed Another to Maintain Balance?

From tip to tip, the wingspan of an adult eagle can reach up to 8 feet.

Published Mar 12, 2022

 (Pixabay)
Image Via Pixabay
Claim:
When an eagle loses a feather on one wing, it will automatically shed the same feather on the opposite wing to maintain balance.
Context

Eagles and other birds will lose flight feathers symmetrically during molting season. However, if an eagle loses a feather on one wing through injury or accident, it will not automatically shed the same feather on the opposite wing to maintain balance.

Curious about how Snopes' writers verify information and craft their stories for public consumption? We've collected some posts that help explain how we do what we do. Happy reading and let us know what else you might be interested in knowing.

As America’s national emblem, the bald eagle has a native range that spans North America from coast to coast — and so do rumors surrounding the raptor’s life cycle

One such notion claimed that when an eagle loses a feather on one wing, it will automatically shed the same feather on the opposite wing to maintain balance. A quick Google search revealed that the idea was popularized on a Reddit post in 2016, and various iterations have since made their rounds on the internet. 

Snopes spoke with an avian care specialist at the Alaska Raptor Center who said that it is true that eagles and other birds will lose flight feathers symmetrically during molting season. However, when an eagle loses a feather on one wing through injury or accident, it will not automatically shed the same feather on the opposite wing to maintain balance.

Molting is a natural process that occurs when a bird sheds old feathers to make room for new growth. Bald eagles, both juvenile and adults, will molt every year, shedding their specially evolved aerodynamic feathers to make way for new ones. The National Eagle Center, a Minnesota-based environmental conservation organization, wrote that bald eagles will molt the same primary flight feathers on each wing simultaneously to maintain balanced flight — and it can take up to three months to fully replace a molted feather. 

But if a feather is pulled out or damaged on one wing through an accident or injury, it is unlikely that the same feather on the other side will automatically be shed. Eagle feathers are made of keratin and grow from the skin in much the same way as our fingernails, and each feather grows out of skin follicles like human hair, according to the American Eagle Foundation. Damage to the follicle takes time to repair and regrowing a healthy feather in its place can take even longer. 

So, while it is true that a bald eagle will symmetrically lose flight feathers during a molt, it is inaccurate to suggest the bird will “automatically shed” a feather to maintain flight balance. That claim is simply one for the birds.

If you like reading about weird animal habits, you might also enjoy these stories from the Snopes critter country category:

Sources

Alaska Raptor Center – Rehabilitation. Education. Research. https://alaskaraptor.org/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

Bald Eagle Biology | American Eagle Foundation. https://www.eagles.org/what-we-do/educate/learn-about-eagles/bald-eagle-biology/. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

Bald Eagle Fact Sheet | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. https://www.fws.gov/media/bald-eagle-fact-sheet-0. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

tbbgreen. “TIL When a Bald Eagle Loses a Feather on One Wing, It Will Lose a Feather on the Other in Order to Keep Its Balance.” R/Todayilearned, 25 Feb. 2016, www.reddit.com/r/todayilearned/comments/47ibr1/til_when_a_bald_eagle_loses_a_feather_on_one_wing/.

“When a Bald Eagle Lose a Feather on One Side, Does It Lose the Same One on the Other Side?” Quora, https://www.quora.com/When-a-bald-eagle-lose-a-feather-on-one-side-does-it-lose-the-same-one-on-the-other-side. Accessed 11 Mar. 2022.

Madison Dapcevich is a former writer for Snopes.

Article Tags

Become
a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.

Perks

Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime
default