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Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos

Vital Statistics:

Height: 30 - 40 inches     Wingspan: 80 - 88 inches

Although usually considered a "western" bird, golden eagles are reported sporadically throughout the winter at Lake Monroe.

    Golden eagles are not usually found in Indiana. However, each winter we get reports from a few places in the state where they are spotted. One of those places is Lake Monroe, where we get from 5 to 10 reported sightings each year.

    Golden eagles are considered "western birds" with their range extending from Alaska and northern Canada in the north down into Mexico in the south, and the west coast east to the Plains states as well as throughout the eastern portion of Canada. It is assumed that winter dispersal of the eastern Canada birds are what we find on occasion in Indiana.

    Like bald eagles, golden eagles typically take about five years to reach full adulthood, but pair bonds may form long before then, just as they may in bald eagles. Most aerial displays from golden eagles are performed by the male, but, on occasion, the female joins in. The display is basically one of undulating flight where the bird gradually gains altitude. Once high enough, the bird will hold its wings closer to the body, but not completely closed, spiral and tumble down for several seconds before opening the wings to rise once again and repeat the display. Since these displays are usually performed high above the eagle's territory, they can be seen for miles.

    A golden eagle's nest is usually found on a cliff, but trees are also used, although not nearly to the extent that bald eagles use them. The nest is made up of branches, twigs, leaves, and brush. A pair of golden eagles is likely to have two, or even three, nests within their territory, alternating between them, but not necessarily in any predictable pattern. Like bald eagles, golden eagles add material to the nest each year, so the nests can become quite large before falling with the tree or tumbling off a cliff.

    Eggs are laid about every other day, as with most raptors, but, unlike most other raptors, golden eagles' eggs are marked with dark lines and splotches. The eggs are slightly smaller than those of the bald eagle, but only by about 1/10 of an inch. Their incubation period, however, is about 10 days longer than that of the bald eagle - 43 to 45 days for the golden. The female golden eagle does most of the incubation, but the male may take short turns, especially when he brings food back to the nest for the female - his main role in the incubation process.

    It will be about two-and-a-half months from the time they hatch before the young golden eagles will fledge from the nest. During that time, the male will gather most of the food for both the female and the chicks, but he will rarely feed the chicks directly himself. Instead, the food is passed to the female who then feeds the chicks in the nest.

    In the west, the diet of a golden eagle is mostly jackrabbits, but they are also known to take birds, reptiles (seeing a golden eagle flying with a snake dangling from a talon is a roadmap to the eagle's nest), and even insects, but this is usually only when mammals are scarce. They will also, on occasion, eat carrion. In eastern Canada, other mammals probably take the place of jackrabbits in a golden eagle's diet.

    Depending on the availability of food, golden eagles may migrate during the winter months. Western birds likely go to the north-central Mexico highlands, while the eastern Canada birds likely move along watercourses toward the interior United States. It is these eastern Canada winter wanderers that are thought to comprise virtually all of the golden eagles found at Lake Monroe.

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References:

National Audubon Society's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, Alfred A Knopf, New York, 2001.

National Geographic's Field Guide to the Birds of North America, National Geographic Society, Washington, D. C. 2001.

Stokes Nature Guides A Guide to Bird Behavior, Volume III, Donald and Lillian Stokes, Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1989.

The Birder's Handbook - A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Paul Ehrlich, David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye, Simon and Shuster, New York, 1988.

Copyright 2004 Jeff Riegel


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Bald eagle portrait image by Hammond Photography - Jeff Hammond, Photographer; Laura Hammond, Business Manager. Other photos courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources.


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