Environment

Golden Eagle Facts: Animals of North America

The golden eagle is one of the largest and most impressive of North American birds, especially when seen soaring in the sky

Physical Description

The majestic Golden eagle is North America’s largest bird of prey. With a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet (2.3 meters), these raptors are mostly dark brown in color, save for a few areas of golden brown and sparse smatterings of white patches. Despite such a size in its wingspan, the Golden eagle only weighs 6 to 15 pounds (3 to 7 kilograms) with males sitting at the smaller end of the spectrum and the females at the heavier end. Their razor sharp beaks can grow up to 2.5 inches (6 centimeter) long, as measured from the tip of the beak to the gape. Being an Accipitrid, the Golden eagle is in the same family as many of America's other large birds of prey, such as vultures, kites, hawks, and other eagles.

Diet

As a carnivore, the golden eagle is considered a predator at the top of the food chain, and even their young are rarely preyed on. Their diet mainly is comprised by small mammals, such as squirrels, rabbits, and prairie dogs, though they will also eat other birds, reptiles, and fish. Golden eagles have occasionally been witnessed in the act of capturing such larger prey as seals, badgers, and coyotes. Unlike other birds of prey, golden eagles will cooperate and hunt together in pairs, an effort seeing one chase the prey and the other ambushing it from above. When they dive, they can reach speeds of over 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour).

Habitat and Range

Golden eagles are the most widespread raptor in the world, with different subspecies spread across North America, Europe, Asia, and northern Africa. In North America, Golden eagles mainly reside in the west, spanning from Alaska all the way down south to central Mexico. These raptors tend to be found in open to semi-open habitats across varying elevations and terrain types. They can inhabit anywhere from tundra to forests to mountainous areas. Experts estimate these birds' global population to be approximately 300,000 individuals, with no major increase or decrease projected in the near future. At the moment, Golden eagles are considered to be a species of "Least Concern" as per the IUCN Red List, though they continue to face such ongoing threats as hunting, poisoning, and habitat loss.

Behavior

With such a wide geographic span, the behaviors of Golden eagles vary considerably by location. Those residing in the north of North America will migrate south in the fall, whereas the ones in other parts of the continent with a stable food source all year round will remain stationary. Golden eagles can be found either alone, in pairs, or even in groups when they are young and un-mated. These birds are generally silent, save for mating season. At that time, vocal communications come into use to coordinate food deliveries to their young. While mated pairs do have established territories, they do not mark them with scent or sound. Instead, they defend them by flying around and scouting for intruders.

Reproduction

A mated pair of Golden eagles will remain monogamous for years. Those which do not migrate will remain together throughout the year, whereas migratory eagles will begin their annual courtships when they return to their breeding grounds. Depending on location, Golden eagles may have different breeding seasons. A clutch can have anywhere from 1 to 4 eggs, and it takes up to 45 days for these eggs to hatch, and even then the largest and strongest chick will often kill its smaller, more feeble siblings. The pair will care for the chick or chicks together until they learns to fly, which usually occurs at around 10 weeks. The young leave their parents one to two months thereafter, though they will not breed themselves until they are 4 to 7 years old.

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