Golden Eagle

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Image:GoldenEagle.jpg

Common Name: Golden Eagle
Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos

Size: 26-40 inches (66-102cm); Wingspan: 71-92 inches (180-234 cm)

Habitat: Worldwide; it is widespread, ranging across the Nearctic and Palearctic (70°N to 20°S), and fringing Indomalaya and the Afrotropics. It is uncommon to scarce across its range. In general, the species is sedentary, with juveniles dispersing as far as 1000km in their first few years. Birds occupying the mostly northerly regions (>65°N), such as Alaska, northern Canada, Fennoscandia and northern Russia, migrate south. In the Nearctic there are southwards movements to southern Alaska and southwest USA in September, via regular flyways, in particular through southwest Alberta. In the Palearctic, movements occur in a broad front to wintering areas in southeast Europe, the Russian steppes, Mongolia, northern China and Japan. Juveniles and immatures will go as far as North Africa.

The species occupies a wide range of flat or mountainous, largely open habitats, often above the tree line, from sea level to 4000m. In the Himalayas it has been recorded as high as 6200m.

Status: Least Concern. Global population: 170,000 adult individuals with a stable population trend. Because their common prey animals (mammals) don’t tend to ingest pesticides, Golden Eagles have escaped the harm sustained by fish-eating or bird-eating raptors from DDT and related chemicals. When these pesticides thinned the eggshells of many birds of prey, Golden Eagles’ shells retained normal thickness. Pesticide concentrations in their blood stayed below levels known to cause reproductive problems. Biologists, engineers, and government officials have also cooperated in developing and publicizing power-pole designs that reduce raptor electrocutions—caused when the large birds' wings or feet accidentally touch two lines and form a circuit. Since the early 1970s, utility companies have modified poles to prevent eagle electrocutions. And some new power lines in non-urban areas have been built to “raptor-safe” construction standards.

“Hacking,” an age-old falconry technique, is helping rebuild Golden Eagle populations. Humans feed caged, lab-reared nestlings at a nest-like hack site until the birds reach 12 weeks old, when the cage is opened and they begin feeding themselves. The fledglings continue to receive handouts from their hack-site caretakers for several weeks, until they gain full independence in the wild. Diet: Mammals, birds, reptiles, fish, amphibians, insects and carrion, depending on the regional prey availability. Although capable of killing large prey such as cranes, wild ungulates, and domestic livestock, the Golden Eagle subsists primarily on rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs.

Usually found alone or in pairs, Golden Eagles typically soar or glide with wings lifted into a slight “V” and the wingtip feathers spread like fingers. They capture prey on or near the ground, locating it by soaring, flying low over the ground, or hunting from a perch.

Nesting: Sexes are alike but females are larger. Adults are dark brown with a golden sheen on the back of the head and neck. For their first several years of life, young birds have neatly defined white patches at the base of the tail and in the wings.

Golden Eagles possess astonishing speed and maneuverability for their size. Diving from great heights, they have been clocked at close to 200 miles per hour. In an undulating territorial and courtship display known as “sky-dancing,” a Golden Eagle performs a rapid series of up to 20 steep dives and upward swoops, beating its wings three or four times at the top of each rise. In “pendulum flight,” the eagle dives and rises, then turns over to retrace its path. Single birds and pairs engage in aerial play with objects such as sticks or dead prey, carrying these items high into the sky, then dropping and retrieving them.

The breeding season spans March – August throughout the majority of its range, and in southern areas begins as early as November; whilst in the most northerly regions it will start as late as April. Nesting occurs on cliff ledges and where these are not available, in large trees or similar artificial structures.Starting 1–3 months before egg-laying, a Golden Eagle pair builds a nest of sticks and vegetation—sometimes also including bones, antlers, and human-made objects such as wire and fence posts. They line the nest with locally available vegetation, such as yucca, grasses, bark, leaves, mosses and lichens, or conifer boughs. They often include aromatic leaves, possibly to keep insect pests at bay. Resident birds continue adding nest material year-round, reusing the same nest for multiple seasons and sometimes alternating between two nests. Nests are huge, averaging some 5-6 feet wide, and 2 feet high, enclosing a bowl about 3 feet by 2 feet deep. The largest Golden Eagle nest on record was 20 feet tall, 8.5 feet wide.

Cool Facts: The Golden Eagle is the most common official national animal in the world—it's the emblem of Albania, Germany, Austria, Mexico, and Kazakhstan.


This 3D model is found in Songbird ReMix Birds of Prey Volume IV: Eagles of the World

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