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In Norse mythology the evil giant Thjazi changes himself into an eagle and snatches the beautiful goddess Idunn. 43 Many of the categories associated with eagles – sun and storm, wisdom and danger, healing and death – are contradictory and yet connected, so perhaps it is appropriate that eagle spiritual lore often intersects with purely mythological beasts: monsters, fantastical animals and hybrid beings like the Roc, the phoenix and the gryphon. Mythological eagles are often giant eagles; it seems we are compelled to imagine these large birds as even larger in mythical stories.

About fifteen other species, including the white-tailed, bald, Steller’s sea, imperial and golden eagles, are ‘partial migrants’, where fewer than 90 per cent migrate every year. Steller’s sea eagles migrate away from frozen bodies of water that limit their fishing opportunities, as do bald eagles. 64 The tendency of eagles to migrate, as well as the style of migration, is determined by the availability of food, which is in turn determined by the weather and prey migration. In the north a frozen landscape limits food supply; bodies of water freeze over, snow covers burrows and small animals stay under cover.

55 Eagles have to be long-lived to reproduce as a species: given their frugal egg output, the tendency towards siblicide, the long period in which the young require parental support and the high mortality rates of juveniles, it has been estimated that it can take as long as ten years for an eagle pair of the larger species to successfully produce two offspring that live and, in turn, breed successfully. Smaller species seem to have more young, and may not be as long-lived. 56 The long lives of eagles may have inspired some of the folklore about their wisdom, since we humans tend to assume that if you have been on the earth for a while, you have learned a thing or two.

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