The golden eagle is without doubt one of the most powerful and beautiful of the raptors. His strong beak and talons, coupled with his speed and agility make him a formidable hunter.
The adult golden eagle is a uniform dark brown except for the golden feathers on the back of its head and neck. It is easy to identify juvenile goldens because they always have a few white patches on the base of the tail and on the wings. Juveniles are also a darker brown than mature birds.
The golden eagle has a large sturdy body that weighs from twelve to fourteen pounds. They may have a wing span of over eight feet. Birds in captivity may be even heavier and have a wider wing span.
Today, the golden eagle is found primarily in the northern and western states, as well as Europe, and parts of Asia. The use of pesticides and illegal hunting have limited the number of golden eagles to the extent that in some areas they are considered endangered.
Some goldens remain in one location throughout their lifetime, while others, primarily those in the far north, migrate south when winter sets in.
Golden Eagles may be found in a variety of locations, including coniferous forests, the arctic tundra, deserts, grasslands, and even marshes. They prefer to live and hunt in open country, near foothills or mountains.
When golden eagles nest, they chose a desolate area, far from human habitation.
Golden eagles are ideal raptors, large, powerful, agile and amazingly swift. When cruising, goldens fly at about thirty miles per hour, and when diving, they can reach up to one hundred and fifty miles per hour.
These eagles eat a variety of prey, including marmots, ground squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards, game birds, other birds of prey, and carrion. They have been accused of taking lambs, but they were probably only feasting on carrion that died from unrelated causes.
Golden eagles hunt their food by first cruising in circles watching for any movement, and then diving and swooping in for the final kill.
Nesting And Reproduction
Golden eagles build their nests on low outcroppings or in old trees. Both male and female take part in the building process, using twigs, moss, grass and leaves to construct a next about six feet across, and several feet deep. Golden eagles mate for life and together build from four to eight nests, known as aeries, within their hunting area.
Both male and female protect these nests, as they protect their food, with razor-sharp beaks and talons.
Mating takes place in the early spring and the female will lay from one to four brown speckled white eggs over a period of several days. If the first hatchlings - born white with brown markings - are especially strong and aggressive, they may kill their younger, weaker siblings.
By ten weeks of age, the young eagles are ready to fly. For several weeks before this, the parents, who both take part in feeding, will toss food randomly close to the nest, causing the young to stumble about, and so strengthen young wings.
Golden eagles do not mate until they are at least three years of age.
The golden eagle is in no way harmful to man. It takes only food that is easy to obtain and plentiful. The few game birds taken are insignificant.
Golden eagles can be easily distinguished from bald eagles by their smaller heads, and longer tails.
Golden eagles can live for up to forty years, and longer in captivity.
The eagle on the Mexican flag, is a golden eagle.
Depending on geographic location, the hunting range of a pair of golden eagles can be upwards of fifty square miles.
During the middle ages, golden eagles were used in falconry.
The golden eagle has only two enemies, the bear, and man.
The Future Of The Golden Eagle
It is apparent that the last century has seen a drastic reduction in the golden eagle population. Pesticides and toxins introduced into the eagles natural prey, has decimated their numbers, as has thoughtless hunting.
Hopefully things will imporve for the golden eagle.
Efforts have been made to reintroduce golden eagles into their previous habitats. Fortunately, hunting golden eagles is now illegal, so that these majestic birds can no longer be killed in the name of sport, or simply to obtain those gorgeous, golden feathers for man's adornment.