Birds of Prey: The Golden Eagle
Often overlooked and forced to play second fiddle to its more popular eagle brethren, the Golden Eagle is every bit as majestic and beautiful as the Bald Eagle.
Found throughout North America, Europe, Northern Africa and Asia the Golden Eagle is much more widespread than the Bald Eagle and is found in more places worldwide than any other eagle species. As the largest Bird of Prey in North America the Golden Eagle is at the top of the food chain and has few predators other than humans.
The Golden Eagle is very large and can measure between 28 to 38 inches in length with a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet from tip to tip. As with other Birds of Prey the female is much larger than the male. Their weight will vary but larger female birds can weigh as much as fifteen pounds while males will average eight to ten pounds.
The plumage of the Golden Eagle is dark brown with a lighter golden band on the head and neck which gives the bird is name. Despite its size the Golden Eagle is very nimble and can fly extremely fast at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour when diving at their prey. Like other birds of prey the Golden Eagle is monogamous and mates for life.
Habits & Breeding
As would be expected of a bird the size of the Golden Eagle they build large nests which can measure up to seven feet in diameter. They prefer to build on cliffs or high up in a tree and these nests may be used for several years by a breeding pair.
The female will usually lay from one to four eggs with both parents sharing in the incubating duties. The incubation period will normally last from 40 to 45 days and the eggs will usually hatch a few days apart. The young eaglets will fledge in about twelve weeks or so. In many cases only one or two chicks, usually the older ones, will survive. The advantage that the older chicks have being a few days older and bigger sometimes results in the younger chicks not getting sufficient food. Chicks that survive to fledge and hunt on their own can live for many years and the average life span of the Golden Eagle in the wild is up to thirty years. Young Golden Eagles will reach full maturity and complete adult coloration in about five years.
The Golden Eagle uses its large sharp talons while hunting to snare rabbits, squirrels, and marmots as well as other small mammals. They will also eat fish, other birds, snakes and carrion if food is scarce. The Golden Eagle has reportedly even attacked larger animals such as deer and mountain goats, which shows its brazen, aggressive nature when hunting.
The territory of a breeding pair is very large and can stretch for sixty square miles. In North America the Golden Eagle is found from Mexico to as far north as Alaska. They are mostly found in the western parts of the United States but can be spotted in the east, usually during migration. They prefer the open areas of deserts, plateaus and mountains and generally avoid heavily forested areas.
The Golden Eagle is found pretty much around the world in the northern hemisphere with populations across Europe, Northern Africa and Asia. Golden Eagles can be found anywhere from the seashore to the arctic tundra to high mountain elevations.
While some Golden Eagles will migrate many others do not. It seems that the conditions of their particular geographic location determine this. Most Golden Eagles in Alaska and Canada will normally fly south for the winter while birds in Mexico and the western United States will maintain their ranges for the entire year.
Amazing photo of the Golden Eagle in flight
The Golden Eagle is currently protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Although it is difficult to ascertain exact numbers the US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are currently about 30,000 Golden Eagles across the United States. Worldwide population figures give an estimate of over 100,000 individuals.
The greatest threat to the Golden Eagle continues to be man. Destruction of the Golden Eagles habitat through urbanization continues to challenge the species.
The perceived threat to ranchers from the Golden Eagle has also resulted in many being shot or poisoned although the protection now afforded to the Golden Eagle and education has diminished this threat. Today, most Golden Eagle deaths attributed to man come from power line electrocutions, collisions with vehicles, and wind turbine accidents.
- Golden Eagles have been known to eat tortoises. They will drop the tortoise onto rocks in an effort to break the shell.
- The Golden Eagle is more closely related to the Red Tailed Hawk than to the Bald Eagle.
- The Golden Eagle is the national bird or animal of five nations, the most of any species; Mexico, Albania, Scotland, Austria and Kazakhstan.
- Eagles can rotate their heads 270 degrees just like the owl.
- Golden Eagles are successful about 30% of the time when hunting.
- In captivity Golden Eagles can live 40 to 45 years. In the wild they can live up to 30 years.
- Golden Eagles shy away from populated areas, which is one reason why they are very uncommon in the eastern United States.
- The Golden Eagle capital of the world with the highest concentration of nesting Golden Eagles worldwide is in Alameda County, California.
- Golden Eagles have been known to fight off bears, cougars and coyotes in defense of their young and their prey.
Do you have a favorite Bird of Prey?
If so, let me know.
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© 2012 Bill De Giulio