Golden eagles are fantastic birds, sometimes dubbed the ‘kings of eagles’. The most widely distributed eagle and one of the most common, Golden eagles live across most of the Northern Hemisphere. The Golden eagle is fast, powerful and intelligent - a force to be reckoned with - but how long do Golden eagles live?
Studies in Europe and North America reveal that Golden eagles live for around 14 to 20 years on average. However, the oldest wild Golden eagles frequently live until they’re 20 or older, with the oldest known wild specimens reaching 33 in Scotland and 31 and 8 months in the USA. In captivity, Golden eagles have been recorded living into their 40s.
These long-lived birds have a shaky start to life, as only two out of every four chicks typically survive until fledging. Young birds have around a 70% to 90% chance of surviving their first year. After their first birthday, Golden eagles have around a 90% year-on-year survival rate. If they survive until their first birthday, Golden eagles have a solid chance of seeing out their 14 year+ average lifespans.
Like most eagles, Golden eagles have a slow lifecycle and don’t reach full sexual maturity for around four years. These birds are durable and robust apex predators, and their primary risks come from the environment in the form of food, weather and human interference.
Read on to learn more about the lifespan of the impressive Golden eagle!
On average, golden eagles live for between 14 and 20 years.
Golden eagles are long-lived birds that tend to live for at least 14 to 15 years. Wild lifespans above 20 are not uncommon, and captive Golden eagles can easily live for 30 years or longer.
As large, apex predators, Golden eagles mainly face threats from their environment in the form of food, accidents, hunting and poisoning.
Many Golden eagle lives are cut short by lead poisoning from bullets embedded in their prey and carrion. However, once they reach adulthood, Golden eagles have an excellent chance of living beyond the age of 14, with many reaching their early 20s.
Studies generally place the average lifespan of wild Golden eagles as 14 to 20 years. However, there is evidence that adult Golden eagles often go on to live for longer than 25 years in the wild.
For example, Golden eagles in Scotland frequently live until they’re 16, with the oldest individual living for 33-years. Since Golden eagles have become a protected species in the UK, US and much of Europe, they’re living for longer than they once were.
It’s a similar case in North America, where longevity seems to range between 14 and 22-years or longer. A study in Germany similarly placed their average lifespan at 13 years.
The deciding factor for the Golden eagle's lifespan is whether or not the bird lives until adulthood. Only around two out of four nestlings go on to fledge, and of those, some 25% will die in their first year. Birds that survive their first year have a great chance of living for around 20-years. The same with many birds, the first few weeks and months of a Golden eagle’s life are critical.
A golden eagle hunting for prey, over the mountains
There are various anecdotal reports of Golden eagles living until their late-30s or early-40s in captivity. One specimen in Europe is alleged to have lived until it was 46-years of age. Some sources even suggest they can live for longer!
Given that the oldest wild Golden eagles live until their early-30s, there is no reason not to believe that they can live for longer in captivity.
Most Golden Eagles die from starvation, disease, poisoning, accidents and clashes with prey or other predators.
Golden eagles are apex predators, but some do die in clashes with other large mammals like wolverines, Snow leopards and wolves. This is quite rare - Golden eagles usually die from starvation in later life, accidents and lead poisoning. In the UK and North America, lead poisoning is one of the leading causes of death for middle-aged Golden eagles.
One study in the USA revealed that some 50% of dead Golden eagles showed signs of lead poisoning. The birds usually consume lead by eating bullets embedded in carrion meat. Other causes of death include accidents, e.g. electrocution from perching on high-voltage power lines and collisions with wind turbines.
Overall, Golden eagles are often directly or indirectly killed through human interference. In Europe and Spain, death by natural causes only accounts for some 50% to 60% of total mortality.
Golden Eagle perched high up in a tree
Golden eagles have a very slow, patient lifecycle, the same as many other eagles. The typical egg incubation period is a long 41 to 25 days, followed by a lengthy time-to-fledging of 10 to 12 weeks.
After fledging, young Golden eagles may remain with their parents for an additional 12 weeks or longer, until they’re ready to become independent and find their own territories. In the UK, young Golden eagles are typically driven out by their parents in November after hatching as early as April. Once independent, Golden eagles remain solitary for some 3 years before finding a mate, and won’t reach full sexual maturity until they’re 4 to 5.
Golden eagles don’t have any natural predators in the wild, but a few are killed in clashes with other predators and large animals.
Despite being an apex predator, Golden eagles have been observed clashing with bears, wolverines, White-Tailed eagles, wolverines, Snow leopards and wolves. Most clashes erupt in defence of the eagle’s nest or territory, mainly when nestlings are involved. Clashes with large deer may also be fatal.
Golden eagle chicks are vulnerable to attacks by other eagles, owls and other large raptors, as well as wolverines, mink, racoons, cats, wolves and bears. The parents are fiercely vigilant and protective of the nest - predation is an unlikely cause of death for most Golden eagle chicks, and most die from starvation or disease.
Golden Eagle soaring through the forest in autumn
The oldest Golden eagles in the wild are between 32 and 33-years-old. The oldest Golden eagle in the USA was 31 years, and 8 months old. It was found in 2012 in Utah and was banded in the same state in 1980.
The oldest Golden eagle in the UK was found in Sutherland, Scotland, and was 33-years-old, having been banded in 1985. The previous European record holder was banded in Sweden and was 32.
Golden eagles can live for several days or even weeks without food.
Golden eagles tend to gorge on food as and when it’s available. If possible, Golden eagles eat around 250g (0.5lb) of food a day, but they can go several days without food if necessary.
This is because Golden eagles have large crops - an extension of the stomach - which enable them to store as much as 1kg (2lb) of food. Any excess food they consume is stored in the crop and digested later. Many eagles have large crops for this exact reason - large kills can be rare, especially in the cold winter months.
Kills in winter may be few and far between - Golden eagles make up for it by gorging themselves heavily when they have the opportunity.
Golden Eagle coming in to land
Golden eagles live in close proximity to the Arctic circle and survive very harsh conditions. Northernmost populations often head south in winter, especially if the weather is particularly bad.
Even so, Golden eagles are well-adapted to cold climates thanks to thick, dense feathers that cover their body as well as their legs. They can roost either in their nests or in other nearby roosting sites. Occasionally, younger Golden eagles will roost together in small groups of 2 to 10 birds to help them stay warm at night.
Golden eagles conserve energy in winter, making fewer hunting trips. When they find food, they’ll gorge themselves and store any excess food in their crop, an extension of their stomach, which has a capacity of around 1kg (2lb).
Golden Eagle perched in a tree during the winter
Golden eagles are legally protected in much of the UK, USA and Europe.
Golden eagles have a history of persecution and hunting. In the USA, they’re protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and in the UK, they’re protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. The unlawful killing of Golden eagles is strictly prohibited in most countries, with harsh fines and sentences being issued in the USA and UK.
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