Golden Eagle Species Profile
also has a small nesting population of golden eagles in the
western part of the state, with some wintering in remote areas
throughout the state.
These birds, while not listed as endangered, have also suffered population declines. In the 1980s, perhaps only six to 10 pairs of golden eagles nested in Oklahoma.
The two species of eagles are not closely related. The golden eagle is a western bird that ranges over mountains and grasslands, feeding primarily on rabbits, rodents and other small mammals. This species is protected by most of the same state and federal laws as the bald eagle and warrants the same protection.
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)
The word “Aquila” is the Latin word for “eagle.” The specific epithet “chrysaetos” comes from the Greek words “khrusos” meaning golden and “aetos” meaning eagle. Both the scientific name and the common name refer to the bird’s head and neck feathers that have a golden tint to them.
Golden Eagles are generally dark brown birds; however, they have golden-brown feathers on the backs of their heads and necks, as well as along the leading edge and upper surface of each wing. The tail is dark brown and often has a darker band on the end. Juvenile Golden Eagles (those less than two years old) are similar in coloration but they have a broad white or light-colored band running across the middle of the tail feathers that is visible from below. First-year eagles also may have a large white patch of feathers near the center of each wing.
Golden Eagles are large birds that stand just over two feet tall and have a wingspan that is six and a half feet wide. Their average weight is 10 pounds, but females tend to be 15-20% larger than males.
Golden Eagles maintain very large territories during the nesting season – typically between 25 and 60 square miles – and a pair of eagles may maintain the same territory throughout their adult life. Pairs of Golden Eagles commonly maintain two to four nest sites within their territory, although only one site will be used in any given year and the birds will alternate sites between years. Their nests are large and comprised of sticks – each year that a nest is used, new sticks are added to it. The nests are usually constructed on cliffs, but sometimes a nest may be built in a large tree such as a cottonwood.
Eagles raise one brood of chicks each year. In the early spring, they lay two (sometimes three) large, cream or buff-colored eggs with brown spots and markings. Each egg is nearly three inches long and the eggs have a long incubation period that lasts 43-45 days (about a week longer than Bald Eagle eggs). After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for another nine to ten weeks before fledging. After fledging, they continue to be fed by their parents for several weeks longer as they learn to hunt on their own. The female parent does all of the incubating of the eggs. During the first five to six weeks, the female stays at the nest and feeds the chicks with food that is brought to her by the male. After about six weeks, both parents hunt and bring food to the chicks.
Food and Prey Size:
The majority of the Golden Eagle’s diet is made up of jackrabbits, prairie dogs, cottontails, ground squirrels and rats. Occasionally, they will prey upon snakes, large birds and opossums. During the winter, they take on the ecological role of vulture and will scavenge carrion such as road killed jackrabbits, raccoons and deer.
In the wild, Golden Eagles often live twelve to eighteen years and there are several records of banded birds living 23 to 30 years. In captivity, Golden Eagles often live 35 to 45 years. Golden Eagles appear to mate for life, or at a minimum, the same birds may form a nesting pair for many consecutive years. The pair-bonds are re-established in late winter shortly before the nesting season and pairs engage in a high-altitude, circling courtship flight.
Golden Eagles have keen eyesight like other birds of prey. Their eyes are large and contain many light-detecting cells in the retina that allows them to see with fine detail. Both eyes are located at the front of the head so that they have strong binocular vision and excellent depth perception.
Range In Oklahoma:
Only two to four nesting pairs of Golden Eagles occur in Oklahoma – all in the western edge of the panhandle in the vicinity of Black Mesa. Historically, they may have nested along the bluffs of the Cimarron River in northwestern Oklahoma and possibly in the granite bluffs of the Wichita Mountains. During the winter months, additional Golden Eagles migrate into Oklahoma from the northern Rocky Mountains. During the winter, Golden Eagles can be found statewide, but are more commonly seen in the western half of the state.
The Golden Eagle is widespread in the northern hemisphere. In North American it is found between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains from northern Mexico to Alaska, with a smaller population occurring in eastern Canada. Other races of the Golden Eagle occur in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, Korea and Japan.