An Animal of the High Desert - Golden Eagle

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is the largest of the genus, buteo, or bird of prey. Their wingspan can reach up to 7 1/2 feet. Their massive size has earned the golden eagle the title “King of the Birds.” As with many buteos, females are considerably larger than males, in the case of the Golden Eagle they weigh one-fourth to one-third again as much as male birds.

Adult golden eagles have golden brown plumage. Their head and nape feathers are a slightly lighter, golden color. Juveniles have white patches at base of primary feathers and a white tail with a distinct dark band at the end. It takes four years to acquire adult plumage. These regal birds range from Mexico through much of western North America. Golden eagles are also found in Asia, northern Africa, and Europe.

Golden eagles are monogamous and may remain with their mate for several years or possibly for life. Golden eagle pairs have territories that may be as large as 60 square miles. The female will lay 1-4 eggs in the spring and takes on the primary responsibility of incubating the eggs. During the 45 days it takes for the young to hatch, the male primarily hunts and gathers food. The eaglets hatch in the order the eggs were laid. The first born often eat their later-born siblings, so it is common for the first born to be the only eaglet to survive and leave the nest. Both parents share the responsibilities of raising the young.

Golden eagles use their speed and sharp talons to seize their prey, which includes rabbits, marmots, and ground squirrels. They also eat carrion, reptiles, birds, fish, and large insects. They have even been known to attack full grown deer. When golden eagles spot prey while soaring through the air, they tuck their wings and swoop at speeds up to 200 mph. The eagle's eyes are large, occupying most of their head, and they have colored vision much sharper than any 20/20 human vision in daylight. Their sharp eyes and their ability to turn their heads 210 degrees, help them hone in on their target

Golden eagles are protected in the United States through the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Possession of a feather or other body part is a felony with a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 10 years in prison, although federally recognized Native Americans are able to possess these emblems which are traditional in their culture.

An Animal of the High Desert Archive