This trope pertains to eagles, hawks, falcons and other similar species of bird. Generally considered to be symbols of freedom, majesty, leadership etc. They often appear as guardians, guides or messengers. They can sometimes also symbolize foreboding danger, although crows and vultures have this association more.
Eagles, being one of the largest groups of raptor, and having associations with Eagleland, are usually seen as the Biggest and most Badass of the bunch and carry connotations of power and regality in addition to the usual traits of bird of prey. Hawks and falcons have slightly different associations from eagles, stemming in part from the sport of falconry. They are less likely to be depicted as majestic, more likely to be used as symbols of aggression. Contrasting with the image of freedom Big Badass Birds Of Prey typically carry, they may even have association with the idea of servility. A falcon trained to hunt for its falconer would be an example of the power of a Big Badass Bird Of Prey being more controlled and restrained, for instance. Even the idea of the dissolution of servitude is played with in some works to represent unrestrained chaos and anarchy. Owls may be considered Big Badass Birds Of Prey at times, but they also have a trope of their own that overlaps with doom and foreboding of ravens and crows and another trope on top of that, which represents them as a font of knowledge.
Oftentimes creators will go out of their way to make the Big Badass Bird Of Prey even more Badass somehow. Usually this is by giving them attributes from another bird of prey, with the most common variant being to have the bird in question make the majestic and frightening scream of a red tailed hawk regardless of species. Another less-common variant of this is to give a smaller and less-impressive bird of prey the body of an eagle. In other cases the Big Badass Bird Of Prey will be given traits not common to any bird, such as the ability to set itself on fire, create lightning and thunder with their wings, or carry off whole elephants, which are abilities that are specific to The Phoenix, thunderbirds, The Roc, respectively. The last has no relationship to wrestler Dwayne Johnson.
The ultimate Trope Maker is Imperial Rome, which used the eagle as a symbol. This means this trope is Older Than Feudalism. Its associations with Rome lead to its widespread use in medieval Europe to evoke the glories of the former Byzantine Empire, which eventually evolved into the modern trope. The falcon was also the symbol of Horus, one of the main Egyptian gods. The trope also developed separately in other cultures, such as the Aztec and the indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest in North America. Nowadays they're used as symbols in India, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Serbia, Armenia, Germany and of course America.
Non-symbolic invocations of this trope may rate as Somewhere, an Ornithologist Is Crying, as when ordinary eagles are depicted carrying off infants in older works. (See Kidnapping Bird of Prey) There's also a tendency to depict the most powerful Big Badass Bird Of Prey in a given work as male, despite female raptors having been known to be substantially larger than their mates for centuries.
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A recent whiskey commercial features a gigantic hawk that carries off a woman from her village, then returns twice for barrels of booze.
In Yaiba, Kotaro Fuuma's true form is that of a Hawk-Man. Yaiba almost got killed by him.
Vicious from Cowboy Bebop has a giant black bird that likes to rest on his shoulder until it exploded in the final episode because Vicious fed it explosives to help him escape the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate.
The Gliders' giant hawks in ElfQuest definitely qualify, despite being taxonomically suspect.
Judges in Judge Dredd have a massive eagle for one shoulder pad, and eagles are a prominent symbol in all parts of the Judge System. Carlos Ezquerra says he chose the eagle because it was heavily associated with both American freedom and fascist Spain and Nazi Germany; thus, it serves as a reminder of how something good can be perverted into evil by good intentions.
In Iron Man: The Rapture, a giant vulture from Starkworld kept on disembowelling Tony Stark much like Prometheus.
The Phoenix Force is the Cosmic Entity version of this trope: it's near omnipotent, it eats stars, planets and pretty much anything else that gets in its way and various hosts have gone toe to toe with the likes of Galactus. And most depictions make it look like a gigantic eagle of pure cosmic flame.
Urthblood, the warlord and titular character from The Urthblood Saga, employs several of these as personal fighters, spies and messengers. Wearing armour, no less.
Parvarotti, Blain'seDragon Hawk in Solar Winds instils fear in all who dare come near—except for Blaine, who treats him like one of his best friends. Parvarotti is a messenger hawk and is fiercely protective of Blaine.
The Nativity Story uses a hawk to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Quite a step up from the usual dove.
Our Man Flint. The Galaxy organization has an anti-American eagle guarding its headquarters: it's trained to detect and attack Americans. After Flint destroys the Island Base, the last scene in the movie is the eagle soaring over it.
The Eagles in The Hobbit once again show why they are quite a powerful force to be reckoned with when they easily administered a Curb-Stomp Battle to the orcs and wargs while rescuing Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves.
Further played with in the David Trilogy, when new Sixth Ranger David chooses a golden eagle as his first morph, a bird easily larger and more dangerous than any other the kids have morphed so far.
Mercedes Lackey is very fond of birds in general, but particularly raptors. She even has a whole culture of people with avian Bond Creatures called the Hawkbrothers, although some of them have corvids or something more exotic.
Larry Niven's short story Safe at Any Speed features an alien bird of prey large enough to swallow a flying car whole. Naturally, the people on that planet call it "the Roc".
Dirk Gently is harassed by a very large eagle in The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. The creature turns out to be a British fighter pilot, who was transformed (plane included) by a passing thunder deity.
Lady Jane in the Discworld novel Lords and Ladies, who takes down one of The Fair Folk. (The elf in question ordered her to kill Hodgesaargh, the falconer, without realising just how vicious and badly trained she was. She immediately went for the elf's throat.)
Hodgesaargh: She's does that to me too. Sorry about that. She's very intelligent...
Some of the owls qualify, like Hedwig. Draco's eagle owl is big (incidentally, the European eagle owl is the largest owl in the world, and if you've ever seen one you will wonder how an eleven-year-old handled one), but doesn't show up often enough to be badass.
In "The Scarlet Citadel", Conan catches up to Tsotha because an eagle dived at his horse, which threw Tsotha.
Ice Falcon by Rita Ritchie, about a falconer's apprentice who travels to Iceland to capture a white gyrfalcon and ransom his father with it.
The Lensman universe has the Radeligian Cateagle, which isn't their official name but adequately sums up what they are a hybrid of. Though by no means pure bird they are easily capable of powered flight, they are fast, and they are lethal - all claws and fangs. They are approximately the same size as a man, and can kill humans with ease.
The karlon from Skylark of Space may also count. To what extent it is a bird - or indeed to what extent the concept of "bird" has any meaning in terms of the planet's biology - is not clear, but it can fly and has a beak; it is huge; it can withstand concentrated artillery fire at point blank range; and it eats aerial battleships.
The entire Guardians of Ga'Hoole series and the movie based on it. Mostly owls, but there are the two eagles, Streak and Zan.
Played with in Dream Park: when the South Seas Treasure Game party is attacked by (holographic) Big Badass Birds, they act out this trope to the letter (Vertical Kidnapping included), except that instead of raptors, they're actually giant hornbills.
The skraad in Cerberon are basically huge carrion birds resembling bearded vultures. When Aladavan severely pisses off Lama, she demonstrates their natural weapons are just as effective at rending living flesh as dead.
The blue hawk in Peter Dickinson's novel The Blue Hawk. Played straight: the novel describes the process of taming and training a large bird of prey with realism.
Bascule: "...this time am not fukin about wif wee dainty sparos or hoks or nuffin; am goan as a big bastardin burd; a simurg."
Dr Franklins Island has Miranda turned into a birdlike creature "human enough to horrify". She's a mix of birds and eats "fruit and things", but while her viciously hooked beak might be from parrots, she also has formidable talons and a combative streak, so Semi likens her to one of these.
Hawkmistress! focuses on a girl who has the power to Mind Meld with animals, which she uses to train animals such as hawks, including her prized Verrin hawk Preciosa.
The Erne from the Coast is a short story by T.O. Beachcroft about such a bird.
Both the Romulans and Klingons in Star Trek have warships referred to as Birds of Prey. The Klingon one is pretty small but the Romulan one is massive and both are certainly badass. The Romulans are also associated with eagles, likely due to the parallels with the Roman Empire.
Also, the Romulan insignia is a really badass looking Bird◊ of◊ Prey◊.
In the second season of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, the crew was joined by an eagle-headed Badass, named Hawk. Originally out for Revenge, Hawk is definately a Big Badass Bird of Prey who pilots a starfighter which is also a Big Badass Bird of Prey. Even after Hawk and Buck become Fire-Forged Friends and Hawk joins the regular cast as a Magnificent Bastard, He's still a Big Badass Bird of Prey.
The Ramayana has two vultures that otherwise fit this role.
The Ziz of Jewish mythology.
In Revelation God is said to be surrounded by four, winged creatures covered with eyes constantly praising him. One of them is an eagle, and in some versions of The Bible it replaces an angel congratulating God for sending a plague.
In The Kalevala, Väinämöinen is rescued from sea by Kokko the Giant Eagle.
Louhi, the Mistress of Pohjola, transforms herself into one when chasing the Kalevans who have stolen the Sampo.
Turul is a Saker Falcon in Hungarian Mythology, perched on the top of the World Tree. Statues of it can be found all over Hungary, with the largest having the wingspan of 15 meters.
High Elves and Wood Elves in Warhammer Fantasy have access to Giant Eagles, both as their own unit and as mounts for their Lords and Heroes. High Elves also got in a recent update a flying chariot pulled by a giant eagle. And it's awesome.
BattleTech has Clan Jade Falcon, one of the most aggressive Clans in the Inner Sphere, they later have bird themed mechs like the Jade Hawk.
The Greek play Agamemnon makes use of quite a bit of bird symbolism.
In Shadow of the Colossus there is a hawk that seems to pop in and follow the protagonist from time to time. Apparently you can jump and hang from him in flight if you time it right.
The Fifth Colossus is also modelled after a Big Badass Bird Of Prey.
Several Pokémon. They have a specific trainer class who uses them also.
To be specific, there is Pidgey, Pidgeotto and Pidgeot, Spearow and Fearow, Hoothoot and Noctowl, Skarmory, Taillow and Swellow (based off swallows but with bird of prey aspects), Starly, Staravia and Staraptor, and probably more.
Pokemon X and Y brings us Talonflame◊, a flaming falcon that evolves from the starter bird.
The Mighty Eagle of Angry Birds, which will One-Hit Kill every pig in the level. And most of the level architecture, as well.
Similar is the Space Eagle of Angry Birds Space, which doesn't One-Hit Kill but can be used like a guided missile that wipes out a large part of the level. It's delivered in a package, then comes rocketing out of the black hole, wiping out everything in a certain radius.
Dwarf Fortress features the giant eagle, which is tough enough to take down a group of recruits by itself. They are very annoying when they run wild, but if the elves bring some tamed ones with their caravans, they are just as useful. Rocs are even worse.
Hunters in World of Warcraft can tame eagles as pets. They come with the racial ability Snatch, which damages and disarms targets for six seconds, very handy for fighting humanoids and other weapon-wielding foes, and even some raid bosses.
Druids have the ability to turn into Storm Crows (except Trolls, who turn into bats instead).
The Eaglider and Halbird dream eaters in Kingdom Hearts 3D. Both are somehow able to fire swarms of homing projectiles from their wings (Missiles and lasers respectively) and the former also can drop bombs and use its ordinary looking feet as vulcan cannons. Both also have a habit of striking poses whenever they hit something successfully, emitting audible sparkles to draw attention to it.
Skye, Ryudo's talking falcon companion from Grandia II.
In Dragon Age II, birds of prey are a prevalent feature of Kirkwall architecture and many nobles favour them in their coat of arms. For instance, the Viscount uses a Falcon as his symbol, while the Amell family crest is adorned with two Eagles, later adopted by their scion, Hawke.
BW Silverbolt stands out as being equal parts eagle and wolf.
Buzzy, Dizzy, Ziggy, and Flaps from The Jungle Book, who are a quartet of vultures resembling The Beatles who help Mowgli fight Shere Khan at the end of the film.
In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "The Forest of Magi Oar" Giant Flyer Viragor is atypically depicted as an ignoble, territorial monster, haunting the titular forest, antagonizing travellers and the forest's protectors the Wood Forgers. Later it's revealed that he is the forests' ancient protector, while the wood forgers are opportunistic industrialists.
In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Rainbow Dash is presented with the possibility of having a falcon or an eagle as her pet, and indeed both make it to the final competition - a race through Ghastly Gorge. The falcon wins the race, but Rainbow's Exact Words dictated that whichever one crossed the finish line WITH HER would become her pet. Since Tank the tortoise was the only one to stop and help her after she was trapped by an avalanche, the falcon concedes defeat.
The eagle was used as a national symbol by Rome, countries that claimed to be its heirs (Russia, the Holy Roman Empire, Turkey, Napoleonic France, the United States), and countries which inherited the symbolism from them in turn (Austria, Prussia, Germany)
The only European Empire not to use the eagle was Great Britain, which picked the King of Beasts instead.
Played with by Hungary, pretty much every country that's invaded or otherwise subjugated them have used eagles as their symbol; in response Hungary uses a falcon.
Mexico's eagle is actually of Aztec origin, hence it's preying on a snake over a cactus. It had a rather Romanesque pose during the time of the II Empire (1864-1867) and Porfirio Diaz's dictatorship (1881-1917), though.
Folklore gives a different origin for Poland's white eagle.
All of this imperial symbolism probably inspired the designers of Warhammer 40,000 to pick the double-headed eagle for the Imperium of Man.
The oldest archeological artefact of the double-headed eagle is Sumerian, circa 20th century BC. The double-headed eagle was a symbol of the The Byzantine Empire, with one head looking East (Constantinople) and one West (Rome). As symbol for the Holy Roman Empire, it represented Church and State. The Emperor of Mankind is known to be from central Anatolia (currently Turkey).
Naturally, a lot of Cool Plane models are themselves named after this trope, fighters in particular.
Subverted by the Swedish Air Force, who named their two major Cool Planes between the late 50s and late 80s "Draken" and "Viggen" - which means either "Dragon" and "Lightning bolt", or "(male) Mallard" and "Tufted duck". And considering they semi-officially designated the predecessor of "Draken" "The Flying Barrel".
Hunting with trained falcons was once the favorite sport of nobility.
Though, ironically, most hunting falcons are actually relatively small.
The largest vulture everArgentavis magnificens. It had a wingspan of 7 meters (23 feet for you non-metric people!), and may have been the inspiration for the myth of the thunderbird. Like all vultures, it was a scavenger, not an active hunter, but it's still not a creature most people would want to run into in a dark alley or anywhere else.
Argentavis was part of a big family of big badass birds of prey called the "teratorns". Roughly translated, this means "scary birds".
Even today's condors, much smaller than A. magnificens, are pretty formidable critters.
Several sports teams such as the Atlanta Hawks (basketball), the Baltimore Orioles, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Toronto Blue Jays (all baseball), the Philadelphia Eagles, the Baltimore Ravens, the Atlanta Falcons, the Seattle Seahawks, the Arizona Cardinals (all football), and the Atlanta Thrashers (now knows as the Winnipeg Jets) (hockey).
Deinonychosaurs, being predatory and extremely bird-like (to the point where we would almost certainly consider them birds were we to observe them in life), qualify. The largest known were about the size of a grizzly bear and there's reason to think even smaller ones were tenacious hunters. Many may have killed their prey the way modern birds of prey do. On top of that, the term "raptor" is often used for these dinosaurs in pop culture.
The Cassowary is a large, omnivorous, flightless bird, native to Australia very similar to an Ostrich, but much more agressive, and known to kill humans, and dingos. It's kick alone has enough force to break bones, add to this the fact that this kick comes with a large killing claw similar to Raptor dinosaurs, and the fact that Cassowary fathers (it's actually the males who care for the eggs and chicks) are as agressivly protective as Mother bears, and the fact that, also like bears, the Cassowary's omnivorous diet means that they are notorious for their stealing from human garbage, it's no wonder they earned their reputations as the world's most dangerous bird. And just why does a bird that lives mostly on fruit, and doesn't hunt any animal bigger than rats need to be so agressive? It's so deadly because of how fierce territoral battles are within its own species.
Australia also has the wedge-tailed eagle, which is quite capable of picking up a lamb and flying away with it. The largest verified wingspan of a wedge-tailed eagle is 284cm, or in Imperial measurements, nearly nine and a half feet, and unverified reports of ten or eleven foot wingspans are not unheard of.