Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Description
Golden Eagle

Size

  • The golden eagle has a wingspan of up to 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) and may weigh as much as 6.5 kilograms (14 pounds). It is about 90 centimetres (35 inches) long.

Appearance

  • A golden eagle can be identified by its chocolate brown plumage with dark tail and full dark gold cape on the hind neck.
  • The legs are feathered to the toe.
Distribution

  • The range of the golden eagle includes the greater part of the northern hemisphere, particularly the western mountain areas.
  • During the winter this eagle travels long distances in search of prey, but summer territory is usually well defined.
  • In Alberta, it nests in the Rocky Mountain and foothill natural regions as well as a portion of the boreal forest natural region of northern Alberta.
  • In winter, this eagle is a frequent resident of the prairies. In migration it can be seen throughout the province.
Natural History

Habitat

  • Can usually be found nesting on cliffs along prairie rivers

Food

  • The chief summer food is the hoary marmot of the mountains and foothills, but other rodents and occasionally birds may also be taken.
  • Throughout the rest of the golden eagle’s range, rabbits are the primary prey.
  • Golden eagles will also eat carrion in addition to live prey.
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behaviour

  • The usual nesting site is a ledge or cavity high on a rock cliff.
  • The nest, built from stout twigs and lined with soft materials, is often used through many successive seasons.
  • One to three chalky-white eggs marked with brown splotches are laid.

Appearance of young

  • An immature eagle may be somewhat darker than an adult and with one-half or more of the tail white above a terminal dark bar.

Growth Process

  • The golden eagle requires more than three years to develop adult plumage.
Conservation and Management

Status

The golden eagle is classified as Sensitive in the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report. See:

Issues

  • Population density is low and dispersed over a large area and nests are vulnerable to human disturbance.

Current management

  • Like all birds of prey in Alberta, the golden eagle is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and classified as a non-game species.
Similar Species

Immature bald eagles can be mistaken for golden eagles, but the golden eagle has feathers down to the toe, unlike the bald eagle which has feathers only half-way down the legs.

 

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Updated: Jan 8, 2014