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    Golden Eagle Life History


    Habitat GrasslandsGolden Eagles live in open and semiopen country featuring native vegetation across most of the Northern Hemisphere. They avoid developed areas and uninterrupted stretches of forest. They are found primarily in mountains up to 12,000 feet, canyonlands, rimrock terrain, and riverside cliffs and bluffs. Golden Eagles nest on cliffs and steep escarpments in grassland, chapparal, shrubland, forest, and other vegetated areas. Back to top


    Food MammalsGolden Eagles prey mainly on small to medium-sized mammals, including hares, rabbits, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and marmots. Black-tailed jackrabbits are a key prey species throughout much of their range. These eagles are also capable of taking larger bird and mammal prey, including cranes, swans, deer, and domestic livestock. They have even been observed killing seals, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, coyotes, badgers, and bobcats. In addition to live prey, Golden Eagles often feed on carrion, following crows and other scavengers to a meal. They also catch fish, rob nests, and steal food from other birds.Back to top


    Nest Placement

    Nest CliffGolden Eagles usually nest on cliffs. They may also build nests in trees, on the ground, or in human-made structures, including windmills, observation towers, nesting platforms, and electrical transmission towers. Constructed near hunting grounds, Golden Eagle nests often command a wide view of their surroundings.

    Nest Description

    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.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:1-3 eggs
    Number of Broods:1 brood
    Egg Length:2.7-3.4 in (6.8-8.6 cm)
    Egg Width:1.9-2.5 in (4.9-6.4 cm)
    Incubation Period:41-45 days
    Nestling Period:45-81 days
    Egg Description:White to cream or pale pink, usually with small brown blotches.
    Condition at Hatching:Weak, weighing about 3 oz; partially covered with grayish-white down; eyes partially open.
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    Behavior Soaring (raptor)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. In addition to attacking prey from the air, Golden Eagles sometimes hunt on the ground, wildly flapping as they run. Mated pairs hunt jackrabbits cooperatively during breeding season—one eagle diverting the animal’s attention while the second makes the kill. Back to top


    Conservation Low ConcernGolden Eagle populations appear to have been stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population to be 300,000 with 35% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 15% in Canada, and 3% in Mexico. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. In 1962, the U.S. Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act outlawed harming these birds, their eggs, and their nests. Although this legislation remains in effect, humans are still Golden Eagles’ greatest threat: it's estimated that more than 70 percent of recorded Golden Eagle deaths are attributable to human impact, either intentional or inadvertent. Some sheep ranchers trapped, shot, or poisoned the birds into the 1980s. Some eagles have died after eating poisoned prey animals set out to control coyotes. Others succumb to lead poisoning from ammunition in hunter-shot prey. Most recorded deaths are from collisions with vehicles, wind turbines, and other structures or from electrocution at power poles (newer designs have been developed that, if used, can greatly reduce this risk). Urbanization, agricultural development, and changes in wildfire regimes have compromised nesting and hunting grounds in southern California and in the sagebrush steppes of the inner West. Golden Eagles did not prove as susceptible to poisoning from the pesticide DDT as other large raptors, probably because of their diet of mammals.Back to top


    Dunne, Pete. 2006. Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. A Field Guide to the natural history of North American birds, including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.

    Kochert, M. N., Karen Steenhof, C. L. McIntyre and E. H. Craig. 2002. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon and W. A. Link. The North American breeding bird survey, results and analysis 1966-2015 (Version 2.07.2017). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center 2017.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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