The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is found right across the Northern Hemisphere, including North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of North Africa. There are 6 subspecies, of which A. c. canadensis occurs in Alaska, Canada, the Lower 48 states, and Mexico.
These majestic eagles are widespread in the United States, particularly in the west where they occur as year-round residents. Golden eagles are partial migrants and can be found in a variety of open habitats, particularly near mountainous terrain and ravines.
Golden eagles are massive birds of prey that are roughly the same length and weight as the American bald eagle but have a slightly longer wingspan. Golden eagles are powerfully built and can weigh over 6 kilograms and measure over 93 centimeters (3 ft) in length with a 220 centimeters (87 in) wingspan.
As is the case in so many raptor species, female golden eagles are larger than males on average. The size differences include measurements of weight, as well as body, wing, tail, toe, and talon length.
Golden Eagles are large birds of prey
These majestic birds of prey are very similar in size to the bald eagle, America’s national bird. Adults of the two species are usually easy to tell apart, although the juvenile bald eagle may be confused with a golden eagle when seen from a distance. The two eagle species tend to hunt in different habitats and focus on different prey items, so they are rarely in competition with each other.
Golden eagles use their large size to overpower and carry large prey up to the size of young lambs. They will target much larger prey, however, and then they are forced to feed at the site of the kill.
Their large size and immense power separate them from the other birds of prey that they share their habitat with, which benefits golden eagles by reducing competition.
In this article, we’ll cover the true size of the golden eagle, and separate some of the facts from the fiction on what these birds hunt. Read on to learn everything you need to know about golden eagles and their impressive size.
Golden Eagle perched on a branch
Golden eagles have large, broad wings that are built for soaring. This allows them to spot prey far below with their incredible vision and fly down to catch their prey on the ground.
Golden eagles hunt by folding in their wings and stooping or swooping down on their prey at incredible speeds that can reach over 150 miles per hour.
Most golden eagles have a wingspan between 185 and 220 centimeters (73-87 in), with female golden eagle wingspans measuring up to 10 percent larger than those of males. Each wing has ten long, finger-like, primary feathers that increase the lift generating capacity.
Continue reading to learn how much golden eagles weigh.
The large wingspan of a Golden Eagle, whilst in flight
Golden eagles are heavy birds of prey with a very similar mass to the more common bald eagle. The weight of adult golden eagles usually varies between 3 and 6.125 kilograms (6.6 - 13.5 lbs). Female golden eagles are significantly (about 40 percent) heavier than males.
Golden eagles have a wingspan that is larger than the arm span of the average human male. Their body length from bill to tail tip measures nearly 3 feet, with is about the height of an average 2-year-old child.
Golden eagles have evolved to combine power with maneuverability. They may be heavy as far as birds go, but they are nowhere near the weight of an adult human.
The average golden eagle weighs about 5 percent of the average weight of an adult man, which is similar to the weight of a human baby during its first few months.
Close up of a Golden Eagle on the ground with prey
The largest golden eagle recorded is said to be a female from Wyoming which weighed about 7.2 kilograms (16 lb).
Golden eagles are known to hunt and kill remarkably large prey. Small deer, sheep, and many other small mammals like rabbits and foxes have all been recorded in the golden eagle diet.
Golden eagles may hunt very large prey, but they cannot lift all of these animals into the air. This means they often feed at the kill site. Golden eagles in Alaska are known to carry prey as large as 6 to 8-pound Dall sheep lambs, which is probably the upper limit of what these birds can carry for any real distance.
Golden Eagle flying with spread wings over forest meadow
Golden eagles are perfectly adapted to live and hunt in the great wilderness areas of the Northern Hemisphere.
The great size of the golden eagle allows them to target larger animals than the other birds of prey that occur in the same areas as they do. This resource partitioning means that golden eagles have less competition for prey.
Targeting and effectively killing such large prey requires strength and bulk. Golden eagles kill their prey using their formidable black talons, which can reach over 6 centimeters (2.5 in) in length. Driving such large weapons through the hide of a mammal or large bird requires serious force and weight.
Golden eagles hunt their prey from above, either from a perch or from the air. They are able to use wind and air currents to spend long periods of time soaring without flapping their wings.
Keeping such a heavy body in the air requires a large wing surface area, which explains why these birds have such an immense wingspan.
Close up of a female Golden Eagle
Golden eagles are among the largest birds of prey in North America and in the world. They are slightly smaller than the bald eagle but significantly larger than a red-tailed hawk for example. There are far heavier eagles in the world, however. The harpy eagle of Central and South America and the Steller’s sea eagle of Asia both attain incredible weights of up to 9 kilograms (20 lb).
There are few American birds that rival the size of the golden eagle. The largest bird of prey in the United States is the California condor. These immense but critically endangered vultures have a wingspan of up to 3 meters (10 feet) or more and can weigh nearly 10 kilograms (22 lbs).
The following other American birds are similar in size to golden eagles:
Golden Eagle feeding prey with a pair of Magpies
Golden eagles have been held in awe for millennia, and there are many legends and even present-day hoaxes concerning their ability to fly away with unsuspecting children.
In reality, a golden eagle certainly cannot lift an adult human being or even a child. A newborn infant under about 8 lbs could potentially be carried, however.
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