The bald eagle is common all along the Northwest Coast, while the golden eagle lives mainly in mountainous regions. Eagles are large birds of prey with impressive hunting and fishing skills.
Eagle is one of the most important beings in the art and mythology of the Northwest Coast. It is respected for its intelligence and power, as well as its extraordinary vision, in both the literal and figurative senses. Eagles in myth are, likewise, usually noble characters. Eagle spirits are associated with lofty ideals and the pursuit of freedom.
Eagle is revered as a powerful hunter. Groups of mythical Eagles may gather for co-operative whale hunting expeditions, since, unlike the giant Thunderbird, Eagle is not strong enough, to hunt whales alone. Eagle may often be depicted with Salmon, one of its favourite foods.
Eagle feathers and down are sacred: traditionally, shamans believed in their healing powers and used them in a variety of ceremonial and ritual contexts, such as honouring a respected guest.
Eagle and Raven are the two clans among the Haida and Tlingit. Eagle is one of four main crests among the Tsimshian, and one of three major Heiltsuk crests.
In the art, Eagle is identified by a powerful beak whose upper half ends in a strong downward curve, which may “recurve,” or hook back toward the body. Eagle has no ears, or small ears (which may indicate magic powers and the intention to depict a supernatural Eagle). Often Eagle is shown with ovoid eyes; split U feather, wing and tail feather motifs; and sharp, curved talons. Eagle spirit helpers and Supernatural Eagles often feature either a prominent “crown” of feathers or two curly protuberances atop the head.
Along with Raven, Eagle is one of the two clans among the Haida and Tlingit people. In many regions, Eagle clan families are traditionally the most prominent, and Eagle chiefs the most powerful. In some Haida myths and legends, Eagle and Raven are close companions and serve as alter egos to one another. They are two halves of the great whole, often divided and often united. Although they are technically equals, the Trickster Raven is the better known.