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One of the largest birds of prey in North America, the golden eagle is up to 36 inches long, has a wingspan of up to 8 feet, and weighs up to 15 pounds, with females being significantly larger than males.
The plumage is dark, chocolate brown, tinged with yellow on head. Males and females are similar in color and marking, but females are slightly darker than males. Juveniles look much like their parents, except for having a white tail, with a broad, dark band across the base, and white on the undersides of the wings.
Distribution and Habitat
The golden eagle is one of the most widespread members of the falcon family. In North America it ranges from Alaska across much of Canada and south through the western United States into Mexico. In the Eastern Hemisphere it ranges from northern Scandinavia across Siberia, through most of Asia north of the Himalayas, as well as in the Middle East, Spain, the mountain ranges of Central Europe, and northwestern Africa.
Although golden eagles are most commonly found in open mountainous areas, they are also found in tundra, shrublands, grasslands, woodlands, and coniferous forests.
Habits and Behaviors
Golden eagles are generally solitary animals, with the only regular "grouping" being a mated pair with juveniles. Each mating pair will have a home range of several square miles, although that range is rarely defended by more than threatening flight displays.
These birds can fly up to 80 mph, with an average of 30 mph, and can reach up to 200 mph in a dive. In flight, they hold their wings horizontal to the body, whereas other hawks and vultures hold them at an angle.
Golden eagles pair for life, but if one partner dies the other will usually seek out a new mate. Breeding takes place between March and August, with specific seasons varying by geographic location. Both sexes take part in building the nest, which may be on a cliff edge, in a tree, on a manmade structure, or on the ground if no high place is available. The nest itself is constructed of twigs lined with local vegetation, and may be used over successive breeding seasons. Most breeding pairs will have more than one nest within their home range.
One to four eggs are laid per clutch, generally 3 to 4 days apart. They are incubated almost exclusively by the female, although the male will occasionally bring her food. Both parents participate in caring for the chicks, which will not fledge until 10 weeks of age and will not be independent of their parents for another 1 to 3 months.
It takes from 4 to 7 years for a golden eagle to become sexually mature. Average lifespan is about 30 years, but there are records of birds living up to 48 years in the wild.
Small mammals, birds, snakes, and other small animals make up the majority of the diet. Fish are occasionally taken, as is carrion, but most golden eagles have no need for such "easy prey." A golden eagle hunts by flying low over the ground, or by perching and then swooping down at high speed to seize its prey. It is not unusual to see a breeding pair cooperate in hunting down larger prey, with one individual chasing and confusing the animal and the other swooping in for the final kill.
Although the golden eagle is not considered threatened throughout most of its range, it is protected under the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1962. Populations in some areas are declining, due primarily to interactions with humans and/or human habitations, both accidental and otherwise. Populations in other areas, however, are stable, and some populations are actually increasing.
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This page was last updated on October 30, 2017.