You would be forgiven for thinking that the accolade of strongest bird would go to some mighty member of the eagle family or to the ostrich, the world’s largest living bird.


What is the strongest bird?

But, unbelievably, pound for pound, the crown for strongest bird goes to the black wheatear. A resident of the cliffs and rocky slopes of Iberia and western North Africa, this small insectivorous bird would get the cold in the bird weightlifting Olympics! The males decorate the outside of their nest holes, and sometimes their nests, with stones, some of which can weigh up to two-thirds of their bodyweight according to research.

The behaviour is likely a form of sexual display. There can be up to 2kg of stones outside the nests, which adds up to a lot of heavy lifting for this diminutive creature.

Which are the strongest birds of prey?

Harpy Eagle is one of the strongest birds of prey
A harpy eagle © Gabrielle Therin-Weise/Getty Images

The accolade of being the strongest bird of prey, says Ed Drewitt, belongs to several immense eagles, including the harpy and crested eagles of Central and South America, Africa’s martial eagle, the Philippine eagle and the New Guinea eagle.

The harpy and Philippine eagles both reach a metre or more from meat-cleaver bill to tail tip, with wingspans double that. The fearsome duo’s legs are 3–4cm thick, armed with curved, dagger-like talons; their hind talons are up to 7cm long, comparable to those of a large brown bear.

Across the globe, this group of mighty raptors seize prey close to their own weight, including monkeys, sloths, porcupines, forest wallabies and small antelopes. Since a female harpy eagle weighs as much as 9kg (males are half this), she can pluck a full-grown howler monkey out of a tree.

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But stories of eagles carrying away children worldwide are either hoaxes or myths.


Main image: Black wheatear. © Jesús Giraldo/Getty


David LindoAuthor, birder and public speaker
Ed DrewittNaturalist, broadcaster and wildlife detective