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Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos (Latin: aquila, an eagle. Greek: khrusos, gold; aetos, an eagle)
Prepared by
Ann Walton

Length:  29 – 40 inches
Wingspan:  6 – 7.5 feet
Weight:  male, 2.8 kg – 4.5 kg, female, 3.6 kg – 6.7 kg 

Adult (males and larger females have same coloration) uniform dark brown with variable tawny (or golden) wash over crown and nape, and faint banding on dark tail.  Its large bill is horn colored.  The immature is always uniform dark chocolate brown above, with definite white wing patches (above and below) at base of primaries.  The juvenile also has a whitish tail with a dark terminal band.  The Golden Eagle flies with shallow wing beats, and its flight silhouette shows a dense body with small head and long tail.  Because of some physiological curvatures in its wing structure, the Golden Eagle appears to have a Buteo S-shape glide; it also occasionally soars with a moderate dihedral.  


Ranges from desert to tundra and from sea level to mountains, but in summer tends toward the more hilly and alpine environments. Generally prefers open, deserted, and sparsely vegetated terrain to heavily wooded areas.
Prefers rodents (rats, squirrels, etc.) and rabbits; will take foxes and small cats. Songbirds, cranes, storks, and swans are taken, but prefers game birds, such as grouse. Less frequent prey includes lizards, snakes, and turtles, often dropping the latter onto rocks to break their shells. Carrion (including domestic stock and deer or antelope) is utilized, especially in winter. Soaring low or high, rather than perching, prey is usually captured on the ground, although in special circumstances (when being harassed by aggressive birds, for example), they will catch “food” in mid air. Hunting from the wing, the Golden Eagle can swoop up to 100 mph. Sometimes pairs hunt together.
February – May. Eyries, several per pair, used alternatively. Long term pairing, bonding each year with spectacular aerial displays of talon locking and tumbling. The stick nest, lined with greenery (often with aromatic vegetation to deter insect pests), can be 6 – 7 feet wide and deep with repeated use. Nest location varies by region, and includes cliff ledges, crags, and trees (10’ –100’ high nest placement). Clutch is 1 – 4 eggs.
Generally sedentary (juveniles do disperse), except in northern most populations where winter food may be scarce. In North America, fall migration starts in September; most winter in western U.S. south to Mexico. Spring return commences in February, and lasts for months, with juveniles returning last.
Not globally threatened. Were heavily persecuted in past, but banning of poisons and protection have permitted increase, or at least stabilization, in many countries. U.S. population is most stable in West, where human interference is less and required environmental habitat has not been significantly destroyed or altered.