Golden eagles are widespread throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa. Because their range is so vast, the raptor's diets are also quite variable.
In general, golden eagles eat many small to medium-sized mammals, primarily rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents. Additionally, birds and larger mammals, such as young deer, are frequently consumed. Golden eagles are also scavengers. They eat the carcasses of ungulates and other species when the opportunity arises.
These skilled predators have fascinating hunting strategies developed specifically for individual prey and the terrain they are hunting. In this article, we will delve deeper into the eating habitats of the golden eagle, including what they eat and how they catch their prey. Read on to discover more!
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) feeding on a duck
Golden eagles have a varied diet in the wild. Mammals are the eagles’ primary food source, but they also eat birds, carrion, reptiles, and fish. Specific species consumed by this bird change based on territory. In western North America, where the golden eagle is most common, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, prairie dogs, marmots, and ground squirrels are primary food sources.
Eagles residing in North America also consume several bird species, including pheasants, grouse, and waterfowl. The main avian species eaten by golden eagles in the west are mallards, American coots, and ring-necked pheasants. Ptarmigan is also a primary part of golden eagle diets in Alaska.
Eagles nesting in the Northeast eat various seabirds, waterfowl, wading birds, corvids, game birds, and raptors. A variety of bird species are also common prey for golden eagles in Eurasia, as are hares and ground squirrels,
Golden eagles are scavengers as well. They will feed on an array of carrion, including deer, bighorn sheep, Dall sheep, coyotes, foxes, seals, and other large mammals. These eagles occasionally even kill the previously mentioned mammals. Predation on livestock is rare but does occur. Golden eagles may attack poultry, calves, goats, sheep, pigs, cats, and dogs.
Golden Eagle flying low on the lookout for prey
In desert environments, the golden eagle predominantly eats rabbits and rodents. The black-tailed jackrabbit and ground squirrel are common prey in southwest North America. Eagles will also eat various other mammals, reptiles, birds, and carrion - when the opportunity arises.
The winter diet of the golden eagle does not change significantly from other seasons. These raptors still eat small to medium-sized animals and birds - mainly hares, rodents, foxes, corvids, game birds, waterfowl, and other raptors.
The golden eagles that migrate from Alaska and Canada to the eastern United States may have the most changed diet - eating similar species, but those native to their wintering grounds are not necessarily the same encountered in their breeding territory. Wild turkey and the carcasses of moose and white-tailed deer are common winter food sources for golden eagles in eastern North America.
Golden Eagle feeding on a rabbit during the winter
In the summer months, particularly during the breeding season, golden eagles predominately eat hares, rabbits, marmots, mice, prairie dogs, and other rodents. They will also eat foxes, young deer, and other small or injured large prey. Carrion is consumed throughout the summer as well.
Golden eagles are extraordinary hunters. They generally search for prey from flight or a perch. An eagle determines its hunting strategy based on the species, topography, and weather. For example, these birds often hunt while soaring on windy days, while the sun is shining. Soaring is also used in more open habitats, whereas the raptors tend to fly lower when hunting in rougher terrain.
Contour flight is another strategy employed by the golden eagle. They use contouring to help them blend better with the landscape to more easily surprise prey, particularly animals that can quickly reach a burrow. This strategy is thought to be the most common.
Golden eagles will often work in pairs also, especially during the breeding season. One eagle will drive the prey to the other - the unsuspecting prey is then caught in the talons of the waiting partner.
Golden Eagle perched with a recently caught rabbit
Golden eagles are skilled hunters, highly adept at killing prey quickly. They do so with their sharp and powerful talons.
On average, golden eagles need about one pound of food each day. However, food sources are not always readily available. When an eagle cannot eat daily, they will gorge themselves as the opportunity arises. They can hold a surprising amount of up to two pounds of meat in their crop.
Baby golden eagles do not eat regurgitated food. They are fed raw meat by their parents starting the day they hatch. Both parents feed their young, tearing the food into sizes small enough for the chicks to swallow. As the nestlings grow, tearing their food becomes less and less necessary.
Female Golden Eagle feeding her chick in the nest
Golden eagles drink water but only directly consume it occasionally. Most of the raptor's hydration is derived from the prey it eats. When golden eagles drink, they usually do so at a small stream, spring, or stock tank.
Golden eagles do not use bird feeders. They are also unlikely to hunt the birds eating at them. These eagles will prey on other avian species, but rarely any as small as songbirds. Birds consumed by the golden eagle typically include ducks, wading birds, pheasants, grouse, and other raptors.
Golden Eagle coming in to land
Golden eagles are exclusively carnivores. They prey primarily on small to medium-sized mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles.
Healthy adult golden eagles do not have any natural predators. They are powerful and too large for other animals to take on, averaging around 7.9 pounds, with wingspans between 5.9 and 7.7 feet. On the other hand, golden eagle eggs, chicks, juveniles, and injured adults are vulnerable to predation. Other raptors, wolves, bears, and mountain lions will occasionally prey on young or unhealthy eagles.
Perched golden eagle looking for prey
Rabbits and hares are the predominant food sources for golden eagles in Scotland. However, they will also prey on various avian species (particularly grouse), young deer, and foxes.
Golden eagles will prey on domesticated dogs, even when other food sources are available. However, attacks on pets are rare.
Rabbits and hares are the primary food sources for golden eagles throughout their range. They also commonly eat rodents.
Mice and other rodents, such as prairie dogs and marmots, are important food sources for the golden eagle.
Golden Eagle flying low, hunting for food
Golden eagles commonly eat various squirrel species. Along with hares, squirrels are one of this bird's most important food sources.
Golden eagles eat fish, but not as often as they consume mammals and other birds.
Golden eagles eat snakes and other reptiles. However, they appear to prefer mammals and birds.
There are no recorded occurrences of a golden eagle killing a coyote. There are reports of eagles feeding on a coyote carcass, though.
Golden eagles do kill and eat foxes. Occurrences seem to be less frequent than the birds killing small mammals, like rabbits.
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