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The golden eagle is named for the golden, buff-colored feathers on the crown and nape of the neck. The adult body color is usually dark brown, and the dark-tipped tail is either darkly barred or spotted. Adult plumage is acquired over a three to four year period and involves a gradual reduction in the amount of white coloration. Immature golden eagles have white wing patches at the base of the tail.
Some populations of golden eagles are sedentary, while others are migratory. In North America, most golden eagles in Alaska and northern Canada travel south in autumn when the food supply on their northern range begins to decline. Most pairs that breed in the continental U.S. and southern Canada remain in the same area all year.
Golden eagles are generally solitary or found in pairs, however, wintering adults may also be found in groups during times of extreme weather or very abundant food.
Golden eagles can carry up to eight pounds during flight. They can fly up to 80 miles per hour, though the average speed is 28 to 32 miles per hour, and may reach speeds up to 200 miles per hour in a dive.
The golden eagle is carnivorous and feeds mainly on ground squirrels, hares, and birds such as cranes, owls and ptarmigans. They also feed on carrion.
Like other birds of prey, golden eagles regurgitate a small pellet containing undigested bones and hair after they eat.
Time of courtship varies with elevation and latitude. Egg laying takes place from late April through May. Usually a clutch of two eggs is laid with 35 to 45 days needed for incubation by the female. Hatchlings become independent at 90 to 100 days old. Nests, or eyries, as large as ten feet across and four feet thick are usually located on cliffs, but trees may also be used. Since mortality in juveniles can be as high as 75 percent, it could take one mating pair up to ten years to produce two breeding birds.
The golden eagle is federally protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940. In some locations, declines in golden eagle populations have been recorded. Loss of undisturbed habitat seems the most serious threat to maintaining healthy populations of golden eagles. Increasing human disturbances and remote area development pose similar problems for golden eagles as they do for Alaska’s bald eagles.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web
Alaska Department of Fish and Game