The Golden Eagle inspires awe everywhere it occurs. These majestic raptors soar above suitable habitats across the Northern Hemisphere.
The Golden Eagle is a massive, stately bird of prey. Continue reading for more Golden Eagle identification tips.
The Golden Eagle is named for the golden plumage on its nape and the back of its head, although the rest of its body is covered in chocolate-brown plumage. Soaring birds show paler flight feathers, and the under tail feathers are often a golden hue.
Golden Eagles have very long wings, complete with prominent, finger-like primary feathers at their tips. In flight, their heads appear much smaller than their tails. Perched birds show heavily feathered legs and bright yellow feet with impressive talons up to 6 centimetres (2½ in) long.
Close up of a Golden Eagle
The tip of their bill is black, becoming lighter towards the base. The cere and gape are yellow, and the eye colour varies from yellow to dark brown. Male and female Golden Eagles have very similar plumage.
Juvenile Golden Eagles show more variable plumage than adults. They are easily identified by the white patch on each wing and the base of the tail. These distinctive markings are present for their first three or four years.
Smaller birds of prey like the Red-tailed Hawk and Eurasian Buzzard are often mistaken for the Golden Eagle. The Juvenile Bald Eagle and White-tailed Eagle could also cause some confusion.
Juvenile Golden Eagle in flight
Golden Eagles are one of the World’s largest birds of prey and an impressive sight both perched and in flight. Females are generally larger than males in all measurements.
Golden Eagle body lengths vary significantly between the sexes and various subspecies. The smallest individuals measure about 70 centimetres (2 ft 3 in) long, while the largest reach nearly a meter (3 ft 4 in).
Golden Eagles reach impressive weights. Males generally weigh between 2.4 and 4.5 kilograms (5.3 - 10 lb), while the larger females weigh approximately 3 to 6.5 kilograms (6.6 - 14.3 lb).
A heavy body needs a large wingspan for sustained flight, and these eagles are masters of the air. Most adults have a wingspan of 1.85 to 2.2 meters (6 ft 1 in - 7 ft 2 in).
Check out this in-depth article on Golden Eagle size for more facts and figures about this impressive bird.
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 produce a variety of calls, although you are more likely to see them than hear them. Continue reading to learn more about Golden Eagle vocalisations.
Nestling Golden Eagles produce various calls ranging from whistles to barks. The young birds are highly vocal and can often be heard from long distances. Adults have an equally wide range of calls, including screams, chirps, barks, and even duck-like calls.
Golden Eagle calling behaviour is understudied, although adults are known to communicate with their partners and neighbouring pairs.
Chicks call loudly to beg for food, while adults often call to announce their return to the nest. After fledging, young birds may call to maintain contact with their family.
Tero Linjama, XC341722. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/341722.
Golden Eagles are fearsome predators that hunt a surprising variety of animals. Continue reading to learn more about the Golden Eagle diet.
Golden Eagles eat everything from mice to small deer, although most of their prey weighs roughly one to nine pounds. Unlike smaller birds, Golden Eagles can go a few days between meals. Hares, rabbits, ground squirrels, marmots, and gamebirds like grouse are all common prey items.
Golden Eagles will also take larger prey like the young of deer, wild sheep and goats, although they rarely hunt domestic livestock.
They are not afraid to hunt other predators and readily tackle small carnivores like foxes and even domestic cats. They readily feed on animal carcases, including those killed by other carnivores.
Check out our in-depth guide on what Golden Eagles eat, along with hunting techniques and behavior.
Baby Golden Eagles are fed primarily by their mother, although both parents bring food to the nest. They rely on their mother to tear small strips of meat for them until they are about five weeks old.
The young birds begin feeding themselves more and more in their second month. However, their parents will continue to provide for them for seven to twelve weeks after fledging the nest when migration begins or when the young birds disperse from their parents’ territory.
Golden Eagle on the ground
The Golden Eagles' success results partly from its wide habitat tolerance. Continue reading to learn where Golden Eagles live and where you might spot these majestic raptors.
Golden Eagles inhabit a wide range of habitats, from open plains to mountainous terrain and from sea level to over 8000 feet (2400 m). Typical habitats include grasslands, prairie, shrublands, deserts, hillsides, and mountain ranges.
The Golden Eagle is the World’s most widespread Eagle species. It has a tremendously wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere, including most of North America, Asia, and much of Europe. They also occur in parts of North Africa.
Golden Eagles spend between 78% and 85% of their day perched on cliffs, mountainsides, and trees. Most of their remaining time is spent soaring effortlessly over their territory.
Take a look at our comprehensive guide on where Golden Eagles live.
Perched Golden Eagle on the lookout for prey
The Golden Eagle is not a common bird, although about 160,000 mature individuals are spread out across their vast range. This may not be a large number, but the population is stable.
Golden Eagles have an extensive range in North America, from Alaska in the north to Mexico in the south.
They are widespread in the United States, particularly in the winter when northern breeders arrive from Canada. They are most common in the western half of the Lower 48, where they are breeding residents.
Golden Eagles are also most common in Canada’s mountainous west, although birdwatchers could see them almost anywhere in suitable habitat. They are also common in northwestern Quebec and Labrador.
In the UK, Golden Eagles are confined largely to the hillsides and glens of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Birdwatchers might see these fine raptors in the following hotspots:
Golden Eagle coming in to land, in its natural habitat
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 are apex predators with few natural enemies. Humans are their greatest threats, although some predators are brave enough to hunt their eggs and young.
Golden Eagles that survive to adulthood live to about 14 years on average, although they can live for over 30 years in the wild.
For more information, check out our guide on Golden Eagle lifespans.
Adult Golden Eagles have no major predators. Large carnivores like wolves and bears usually cannot catch them, and no other bird would dare to challenge them.
However, their chicks are vulnerable to mammalian carnivores like wolverines at accessible sites, and unattended nests could be raided by Ravens, Gyrfalcons, and Great Horned Owls.
Golden Eagles are a protected species. They are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act in the United Kingdom and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States.
Golden Eagles are not endangered. Their global conservation status is ‘Least Concern’ due to their extensive distribution and stable population.
Golden Eagle flying through the forest
Golden Eagles build their nests on cliffs and in trees where they are inaccessible to land predators. Ideal nesting locations are near good hunting grounds where the parents can catch enough prey to provide for their growing chicks.
Nest construction is a slow process that starts in the autumn/fall, although pairs often choose to refurbish old nests. There may be several nests in an established territory.
Golden Eagles lay one to three white, cream, or pinkish eggs, each measuring about 75 millimetres long and 58 millimetres wide.
Golden Eagles do not necessarily mate for life, although they may form partnerships that last several years.
The nest of a Golden Eagle, with adult protecting young chick
Golden Eagles are relatively aggressive eagles, and this behaviour is apparent from a young age. In fact, young eaglets may show aggression towards their parents even before they leave the nest.
Adults are aggressively territorial, especially before they lay their eggs. Both sexes will get involved in conflicts, although females are usually more willing to defend their territory.
Golden Eagles rarely show aggression toward humans, even around their nests. However, other predators like bears and coyotes are unwelcome, and these bold birds may even launch a physical attack.
They will also attack corvids and other birds of prey that might threaten their young.
A pair of Golden Eagles fighting in the snow
Golden Eagles are present throughout the year where conditions permit, but harsh northern climates necessitate annual movements.
Golden Eagles are partial migrants. These birds are breeding residents in the western half of the USA, and along the west coast of Canada to Southern Alaska. They visit other parts of Alaska and Canada to nest each summer, returning to the eastern half of the lower 48 for the winter.
Golden Eagles are migratory, partially migratory, or sedentary in the Old World, although they are resident in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Golden Eagle soaring through the sky, in flight with wings spread wide
Golden Eagles are powerful in flight and capable of level speeds of about 80 miles per hour. Impressive as that may be, they can move much faster when stooping down to catch their prey, reaching amazing speeds of 150 to 200 miles per hour.
The Golden Eagle is the world’s most widespread eagle species. It has been revered for millennia for its strength and grace and is still honoured as the national bird of Mexico and at least four other countries.
Family:Kites, hawks and eagles
70cm to 99cm
185cm to 220cm
2.4kg to 6.5kg
Closely associated with rivers and coastlines, the majestic Bald Eagle is America's national bird. A symbol of strength and power, and a sacred symbol for many Native American peoples, these eagles are one of the most recognizable birds on Earth.
The Crowned eagle or African crowned eagle is a powerful eagle from the family Accipitridae which includes both eagles and many other birds of prey. Dubbed the ‘most powerful eagle in Africa’, the Crowned eagle is a long-lengthed bird of prey with a large wingspan of around 1.8m. Occupying diverse habitats stretching much of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Crowned eagle is capable of catching prey some 4 to 6 times its weight.
One of the world’s largest and most powerful birds, the Harpy Eagle has a fearsome reputation. These impressive raptors prey on monkeys and other large prey by snatching them from the forest canopy with oversized feet and talons.
One of the world’s largest birds of prey, it is also known as Steller’s Fish Eagle, the White Shouldered Eagle and a Pacific Sea Eagle. The bird is monotypic meaning there are no subspecies.
A ‘scruffy’ bird of prey, with a diverse diet and able to thrive in a wide range of habitats, the whistling kite is native to Australia. It is also found on some of the nearby South Pacific islands and island groups, but does not occur outside of this particular region.
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.
The White-tailed Eagle is the UK’s largest raptor and an iconic species making a triumphant return.
Woodlands across the UK are home to a stealthy hunter. The Sparrowhawk is a dashing bird of prey that leads a dangerous life.
Rough-legged hawks, known in the UK as rough-legged buzzards, are medium-sized birds of prey that breed in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America, Europe and Asia, before migrating south once they have raised their young.
Soaring gracefully above the UK countryside, the Red Kite is a bird of prey that has returned from the brink of extinction.
This long distance migrant is named after Colonel George Montagu (1753 – 1815), an Englishman who, upon retirement from the British army, became a renowned naturalist and author of an Alphabetical Synopsis of British Birds, published in 1802. There are 16 species of harrier today, all of which are recognised as elegant, soaring birds of prey of the genus Circus meaning circle.
Western Marsh Harrier
Back from the brink of local extinction, the Marsh Harrier is a localised but increasingly common bird of prey in low-lying wetlands of the United Kingdom.
European Honey Buzzard
The European Honey-Buzzard, which is monotypic, is classified as a bird of prey and is one of six species of Honey-Buzzards from the family Accipitridae, which also includes Kites, Vultures, Harriers, Hawks and Eagles.
Slow but agile in flight, the Hen Harrier is a rare and beautiful ground-nesting raptor of moorlands and other open habitats.
The Northern Goshawk, more commonly known simply as the goshawk, is a large bird of prey, widespread throughout the northern hemisphere, with deciduous and coniferous forests their preferred habitat.
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