Eagle Aging and Beaks/Talons
Date: Spring 2011
Aged eagles, do they grow back their beaks and talons?.
I wonder if you are referring to a presentation (video or slideshow) called "The Rebirth of the Eagle." This has been debunked by Snopes.com and many other reliable sources. Eagles do not remove their own beaks and talons in order to grow back stronger ones.
If you are referring to damaged beaks and talons then my answer is that it depends on the severity. Minor damage will grow out and disappear over time. Severe damage to the "root" of these structures can prevent regrowth. It's much like people's nails. If you damage your fingernail, it will grow back. If you damage the "bed" of the nail badly enough, you will never grow proper nails again there.
This is probably a reference to an outlandish tale popularized by an internet slide show called "The Rebirth of an Eagle". The story goes as follows: At roughly 40 years old, an eagle's beak and talons have become too contorted to catch prey effectively. To extend its lifespan, the eagle goes through an arduous five month rejuvenation process. It goes into self imposed exile and forcefully sheds its beak and talons. The structures then grow back, extending its lifespan another 30 years!
This story is often misconstrued as fact when it is actually an allegory about the sacrifices needed for personal growth and maturation. There is no reference as to how an eagle could survive starvation (after all, it has no functional beak or talons!) for 5 months. In reality, the beak and talons are made of keratin (the same materials found in our fingernails and hair) and continually growing. Eagles generally live 20-30 years in the wild.
Dr. Tim Durham
Instructor, Office of Curriculum and Instruction
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Gulf Coast University
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Update: June 2012