Golden Eagle Biology and Life History

Golden Eagle Sideshot
Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos canadensis

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos canadensis) is one of the largest birds of prey in North America. These powerful birds can be found primarily in the western U.S. - from the northern tundra, through grasslands, forests and woodland- brushlands, to deserts, including Death Valley, California. In winter, golden eagles are present in the eastern U.S. where many migrate south from Canada for the season. They are aerial predators that eat small to mid-sized mammals (such as rabbits, jackrabbits, prairie dogs, ground squirrels), and some birds and reptiles.

Golden eagles build nests on cliffs or in the largest trees of forested areas that give them an unobstructed view of their surroundings. They tend to avoid nesting in densely forested habitat. They build their nests out of sticks shaped to create flat or bowl-shaped platforms. Breeding pairs usually lay two eggs per year, but sometimes lay only one or as many as four.

Golden eagles are sensitive to some forms of human presence and typically avoid nesting near urban areas. However, they occasionally nest near semi-urban areas where housing density is low and in farmland habitat. Disturbances near roosting and forage areas can stress eagles to the point that they fail to reproduce and suffer high mortality rates.

In summer in the United States, golden eagles are mainly found in the western states and Alaska. Some may have migrated north from southern areas. In winter, they migrate south from northern parts of their range. As a result, golden eagles are found throughout the continental United States in the winter. During migration, golden eagles tend to fly in the middle of the day, and will follow along north-south oriented cliff lines and ridges, which deflect the wind upward, providing lift. In open landscapes, they use lift from heated air to help them move efficiently, gliding from one thermal to the next and sometimes moving in groups with other raptor species.

Golden Eagle Population Graph
Golden Eagle Population Graph

The Service and its partners recently evaluated data on summer golden eagle populations in the western United States (not including Alaska) and concluded that populations overall are stable and likely number between 31,000 - 34,500 individuals.

This analysis suggests that golden eagle populations have been generally stable in the western United States since the late 1960s, though some local populations have likely decreased or increased over this time period.

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