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The Golden Eagle Facts and Info

This beautiful golden eagle is named for its golden-brown plumage, with the head and nape feathers being a slightly lighter, golden color. The golden eagle stands between 26-33 inches tall, the eagle has a wingspan of 78 inches (over 7 feet long) and weighs 3.2 to 6.4 pounds. Adults have a bill that is slightly smaller and darker than that of other eagles, including the bald eagle. The immature golden eagle in flight can be distinguished from the immature bald eagle by the presence of distinct white patches on the underwing and a large white tail with a dark band. The most noticeable field mark at any age that distinguishes these two eagles, if you are able to see it, is the presence of feathers on the feet of the golden eagles down to the toes, while the bald eagle has a considerable amount of leg pointing. Its favorite prey food is rodents, birds, rabbits and reptiles, as well as carrion. They are also known to take small sheep and other small farm animals.

The life and history of these eagles

The golden eagle is a long-lived bird, with a lifespan believed to be around 30 years or more. A pair of eagles is also known to mate for life and defend a large chosen territory against other golden eagles to protect there young from starvation. Both male and female help build the nest, occasionally in a tree but more often on a cliff ledge, usually with the protection of an overhanging tree or rock to shelter them. The nest is made of large sticks and branches and often contains scented leaves that may serve to repel insects and other small pests. Since the same nest can be used and added to almost every year, so as you can imagine these nests can get very large due to the birds adding to them.

Birds usually lay 1 or 2 sometimes but rarely 3 eggs which hatch after an incubation period of 34-45 days. Eagles fly in 65-75 days. The male provides some assistance with incubation, but is the primary provider of food during incubation and chick rearing. The young reach sexual maturity and acquire adult coloration in most cases around the age of 5 years.

Habitat is very important

The golden eagle occurs globally throughout the northern hemisphere. Golden eagles are commonly associated with the Great Plains of the western United States and are quite common in our western states, Alaska and western Canada. Once abundant in the eastern US, this species is now nearly extirpated as a breeding bird east of the Mississippi River. Golden eagles once nested in a handful of locations in the Adirondacks of New York, Maine, and New Hampshire. They are believed to still nest in large numbers in eastern Canada and are also protected here, as evidenced by hundreds of golden eagles appearing during fall and spring migrations in the eastern US. Preferred habitats generally include open areas, mountains, grasslands and deserts. The golden eagle feeds mainly on live mammals, such as squirrels and rabbits, and other small animals found in their preferred mountain habitats. In winter they will feed on carrion and waterfowl in the east.

Condition

Golden eagles have been protected in the United States since 1963. During the 1950s, an estimated 20,000 eagles were killed by ranchers and farmers, particularly sheep farmers who considered them a major threat to their livestock. In the northeastern states, the remaining populations were drastically reduced and almost extinct. Although sightings occur every year in New York, most are during migration. A nest was built in the winter of 1992-93 by a wintering pair in southeastern New York, but has never been used as the pair depart each spring to return the following fall. The reasons for the decline of this species in the east are not clear. A number of factors appear to be involved, including shooting, accidental trapping, human disturbance of nest sites, reeds, loss of key open hunting habitat due to succession and fire control, and possibly pesticide (especially DDT) contamination. as well as construction and building works.

Hacking, a technique used successfully in New York to restore the bald eagle, has been considered for Golden Eagle’s but has not been pursued due to uncertainty as to why golden eagles disappeared from New York and whether these conditions still exist. Golden eagle monitoring was conducted in a few southeastern states during the 1990s and thereafter, and at least three pairs have nested there in recent years.

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