We have all heard of the bald eagle before. It’s the national bird of the United States, easy to recognize, and was just taken off of the endangered species list. But there is another species of eagles that is just as important and that is the golden eagle.
Golden Eagle Facts
The golden eagle, or the Aquila Chrysaetos, is one of the best-known and largest birds of prey in the northern hemisphere. It is on the Mexican flag.
Although it is not the national bird of Mexico it is seen as a symbol of power. Even if it’s not North America’s largest bird, it’s one that is interesting and fun to learn about.
Golden Eagle Habitat
Golden eagles have the largest home range of all the eagle species. They can be found between the tundra and grassland (open areas). As well as forests, woodlands or brushlands, deserts, and canyons. If you are specifically looking for golden eagles, you’re more likely to find them in mountainous areas and near hills, high cliffs, and buffs.
Golden eagles can fly a long distance. Their home ranges or territories may be as large as 77 square miles.
Golden eagles have been spotted in the United States, Scottish Highlands, and even northern Africa.
Golden Eagle Characteristics
The golden eagle is one of the largest birds of prey. It is about 27-33 inches long and weighs about 7-14 pounds. Its wingspan is about 78 inches long. Unlike other species of animals, the female golden eagle is actually larger than the male.
The golden eagle has golden-brown plumage or feathers with a white patch at the base of its tail and gold feathers at the back of its neck. Unlike the bald eagle, the golden eagle does not have a yellow beak. It has a black beak and black feet.
The golden eagle’s foot is made up of four very muscular toes. These toes must be strong enough to carry prey through the air while the eagle flies.
Golden Eagle Predators and Prey
Adult golden eagles have no natural predators. However, the chicks are not as lucky. Some animals that prey on the baby eagles are bobcats, wolverines, black bears, foxes, raccoons, owls, gulls, crows, and other large birds.
One of the biggest threats to golden eagles is humans. 70% of golden eagle deaths are because of humans. This includes collisions with vehicles and wind turbines. Habitat destruction is another issue as well as electrocution because of power poles.
Golden eagles are excellent hunters. Their excellent eyesight helps them spot prey over a mile away. Their sharp talons grab onto their prey easily.
Golden eagles prey mostly on medium and small mammals and birds. If the bird lives inland, their prey is rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. If the eagle lives more on the coast or near water, the “sea eagles” diet consists of gulls and other seabirds.
These eagles will also take large prey with them as carrion. Carrion means the animal is dead or has decaying flesh. The maximum weight most golden eagles can lift is 4-5 kg. This is why the stories about eagles lifting small children or large animals like mountain goats are often false. Don’t believe every video you see on YouTube because these are often edited and not actual footage. Golden eagles in the Scottish Highlands depend on carrion during winter months because prey is harder to find then.
Golden Eagle Babies
Golden eagles usually mate for life after a courtship display. The male birds pick up a piece of a rock, drop it in the air, and perform a steep dive to catch the same rock mid-air. They normally perform this stunt 3 or more times for the female birds.
After the golden eagle pairs are mated, the female golden eagle normally lays 1 to 3 eggs per clutch. These eggs are normally laid in late Winter or early Spring. The female does most of the incubation or keeping the eggs warm throughout the day and night. The male is in charge of bringing her food and protecting the nest. This period normally lasts between 41 to 45 days.
Once the eggs are ready to hatch, it can take about 4 days for the eaglets to make their way out of the eggs. The chicks hatch with a layer of grayish-white down, which covers the entire body. Their eyes are partially or part way open.
The parents care for the young golden eagles until they are about 9 to 10 weeks old. This is when the young eagles leave the nest and take their first flight. Juvenile golden eagles do not start looking for mates until they are at least 5 years old.
Fun Facts About Golden Eagles
Golden eagles are pretty cool birds and there are plenty of interesting facts about this spectacular flyer.
- The golden eagle has keen eyesight. It is 20/50. Humans normally have 20/20.
- Golden eagles have been known to attack large animals like young deer.
- A golden eagle may live to be 30 years old in the wild.
- The largest golden eagle nest on record was 20 feet tall and 8.5 feet wide!
- The golden eagle is part of the Raptor family.
- Some Golden eagles will often hunt in pairs. One bird will drive the prey towards a waiting partner.
- On a global scale, the Golden Eagle is not considered threatened.
Golden eagles may not actually be made of gold, but they are pretty special. These birds are something that should be treasured and learning more about them is the first step. Remember, the golden eagle was a representation or a symbol of power!