Majesty, beauty, and sheer physical power.
The golden eagle is huge, with a long tail, and long, large wings often held raised in a shallow V when soaring and gliding. Wing tips are black with long, finger-like primaries noticeably splayed. Flight and tail feathers are basally grey with 3-5 broad, coarse, dark cross-bars. The crown and shaggy hind neck are washed in golden-yellow which contrasts against the dark brown mantle and back. Its large eyes are set back before a bony ridge that protects its vision from any errant swipe of prey animal paw or claw. Its massive, hooked bill is bluish with a yellow base. Legs are feathered. Young appear similar to adults but juveniles have patches of pure white on their wings or tail. Adult plumage is attained after 5-7 years.
Golden Eagle in flight
It is estimated that the golden eagle’s eyesight is 4-8 times better than that of humans. This means that they can spot prey on the ground at a distance of up to 2 miles away.
Golden eagles are mostly silent but will sometimes emit yelping calls in a thin, fluty whistle.
When hunting, the golden eagle will usually fly low, dropping suddenly on its prey with its talons outstretched. Its food primarily consists of small mammals and birds, although it will also scavenge on carrion.
The golden eagle is a widespread, although never common, raptor of mountainous regions. In Britain, it is limited to the Scottish Highlands where it favours islands and remote glens. It can be seen at the RSPB reserves Glenborrodale and Corrimony all year round.
The largest known golden eagle nest in Britain was 4.6 metres deep and had been used for 45 years.
In winter and early spring, the golden eagle will perform aerial displays, with pairs cartwheeling through the air. The golden eagle will also sit in treetops for long periods on the lookout for prey.
Golden eagles have traditional territories and nesting sites that will be in use for generations. Golden eagles are monogamous and generally pair for life. This will happen after a courtship display, which involves a male picking up an object, dropping it and then diving through the air to catch it, the female will also repeat this action, but with a clump of mud. Golden eagle nest sites are called eyries, and pairs will usually establish 2 or 3 of these, mainly on cliff ledges. Both adults build a nest which consists of branches, twigs and heather. These structures can be 2 metres high, while nests in trees can be twice as big. The Female lays 2 eggs in March and incubates them for up to 45 days. She will do most of the incubating and feeding of the young, while the male provides her with food. Young will fledge once they reach around 70 days old. Sexual maturity is reached at 3-4 years of age.
Golden Eagle close up - JoanneJean / Shutterstock.com
Golden eagles can live for up to 38 years, although on average they have a lifespan of about 14 years.
Most populations of golden eagles are sedentary. In Britain, juveniles sometimes extend their range in the search of new territory. Ringed birds recovered in Scotland rarely travelled more than 30 miles from their natal site.
In Britain, golden eagles are listed as a Schedule 1 species. There are estimated to be 440 pairs. They still suffer from being poisoned or from having their nest robbed.
Europe’s smallest eagle, the booted eagle, otherwise known as the Booted Hawk Eagle, prefers the warmer climes of southern Europe and south central Asia and whilst not threatened globally, its population within Europe is showing signs of decline.
A member of the sub-family of booted eagles due to its feather covered legs and named after the famous Italian ornithologist Franco Andrea Bonelli, the species is considered endangered across Europe but secure elsewhere within its range.