Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle


Holarctic. Scotland, Scandanavia, Europe and Asia, to north Africa, Arabia, the Himalayas; North America to Northern Mexico.


Mountainous regions. In Utah during the winter, Golden eagles are most often seen in desert areas.


The genus Aquila includes large to medium-sized eagles. The Golden Eagle\\\\\\\'s large head has golden eyes and a prominent supra orbital process. The beak is black and more heavily arched than the buteos. The large body is heavily shouldered. The large wings are broad with deeply marginated tips. The broad tail is long and fan shaped. The thick tarsi are booted and the talons are very large and powerful with the rear talon being the largest. Adult plumage is attained over 3 - 4 years. The golden eagle is named for the hackles or lanceolate feathers on the nape which are usually edged with golden buff. The back is dark brown, often being sun bleached to pale brown. There is little or no white feathering on the body. The tail is indistinctly barred or mottled with dark gray or brown bars. Immature golden eagles are much darker than adult birds and usually lack the golden lanceolate feathers. Their eyes are dark brown. White patches are present on the underside of the wings at the carpal or wrist. The tail has a broad, dark brown terminal band. The basal 2/3 of the tail is white flecked with brown. With each molt the white gradually disappears becoming more mixed with brown. The Golden Eagle is the largest resident raptor found in Utah. The average weight is 7 - 9 pounds with females ranging in size up to 14 pounds. The body length is 3 feet, the wingspan is 6 - 7 1/2 feet. Lifespan is about 20-25 years in captivity. The record, however, is 46 years.


They are excellent fliers, soaring for hours without effort and have been clocked at speeds of 120 m.p.h. Golden Eagles depend heavily on thermal or escarpment updrafts to gain altitude for hunting. Studies have shown that golden eagles can fly comfortably carrying 2 pounds but they are unable to take off carrying more than 7 pounds. When attacking prey, golden eagles can stop soaring and usually fly into the wind. It is not unusual for an eagle to miss its prey 80-90% of the time. Inexperienced juvenile eagles often chase their prey in a direct line, flying with the wind which disrupts their control and results in many misses. Like most diurnal raptors, golden eagles are silent except during courtship, territory defense and communication with young. Vocalizations include loud screams and soft clucks. Golden eagles living in the northern part of their range may move south for the winter and return to their home range in the spring. Home ranges are not always defended, especially during the winter. Golden eagles are solitary unless part of a mated pair. It is not unusual for juvenile golden eagles to roost with bald eagles although golden eagles do not gather in large groups like bald eagles. Favorite roosts include rock outcroppings, oil derricks and utility poles. Seventy-five percent of all fledged golden eagles die in the first year. Impact injuries are common especially among juveniles. Gunshot and electrocution are major types of human associated mortality.


Pair bonding begins in January or February. Courtship consists of a series of undulating dives. The pair may also fly in climbing spirals. Mating takes place near the nest site. Nests may be on cliff ledges or in trees. Usually each pair has 2-3 nests which may be used in rotation. Nesting material consists of twigs and branches up to 2 inches thick. Nests are added to yearly and are often decorated with greenery. Old nests may be 8-10 feet across and 3 or 4 feet deep. In late February or March, 1-3, usually 2, dull white to cream eggs are laid at 3-4 day intervals. The eaglets hatch in approximately 40 days. Fratricide is common among siblings up to 3 weeks of age. Fledging occurs at 9 or 10 weeks but the young remain dependent on the adults for 3 or 4 months.


The golden eagle was included in the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1963. Penalties for violation are fines up to $10,000 and 2 years imprisonment.

Did YOU Know?    
The golden eagle is probably the most numerous eagle of its size in the world owing to its large range.
Golden Eagle
Native Utah Animal
Class: birds
Genus: Aquila
Species: chrysaetos
Length: Up to 3 feet
Weight: Average weight is 7-9 pounds with females ranging in size up to 14 pounds
Average Lifespan: 12.5
Wild Diet: All types of large rodents and rabbits. Also carrion. In Utah their principal prey is the black-tailed jackrabbit.
USFWS Status: Not Listed
CITES Status: Not Listed
Where at the Zoo? South Pathway

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