European Golden Eagle (Key Facts To Know)
The Golden Eagle is one of the largest Eagles in Europe, and found mostly in remote mountainous areas, where it hunts mammals on the mountain slopes.
Renowned as a fierce hunter, the Golden Eagle is known to attack fully grown goats, deer, and even wolves, although the most common prey are smaller mammals.
The Golden Eagle is absent from large parts of Europe that are densely populated, and only lives in areas that are far away from human settlements.
And while the European Golden Eagle is currently not threatened, it continues to be persecuted in some parts of Europe, which prevents it from occupying all suitable territories. This needs to be stopped in order to ensure a bright future for European Golden Eagles.
Golden Eagle facts
The Golden Eagle is most often encountered in remote mountainous regions, where it soars over hills and mountain slopes in search of prey on the ground below.
Golden Eagle size
One of the largest Eagles in Europe, the Golden Eagle has a wing span of over 2 meters, making it impossible to miss when you encounter it soaring over open ground.
- Wingspan: 189-230 cm
- Length: 80-94 cm
- Weight: 3,750-6,650 g (female), 2,870-4,550 g (male)
The Golden Eagle is bigger than most other Eagle species in Europe, with the exception of the Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca), which is very similar in size, and the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla), which is even bigger than the Golden Eagle.
The European Golden Eagle is a large, powerful Eagle with predominantly dark brown coloration. An easy way to identify Golden Eagles when you see them soaring in the distance is that they lift their wings up above the horizontal plane while soaring, which distinguishes them from other Eagles of similar size.
Similar to the majority of birds of prey in Europe, female European Golden Eagles are significantly larger than males, although there is an overlap in size between the genders.
A maximum age of 57 years has been recorded in captivity, as well as 38 years in the wild, making the Golden Eagle one of the European raptor species with the longest lifespan.
Scientific name and taxonomy
The scientific name of the Golden Eagle is Aquila chrysaetos. It is thought there are up to 6 subspecies, two of which are found in Europe. One of them is at home in the Iberian peninsula, as well as some Mediterranean islands, while the nominate species is found in the rest of Europe.
Interestingly, DNA analysis has shown that the closest relative of the Golden Eagle in Europe is Bonelli’s Eagle (Aquila fasciata), which was previously thought to belong to a different genus (Hiraaetus), but recently reclassified as a true eagle belonging to the genus Aquila.
European Golden Eagle distribution
The European Golden Eagle has a very large distribution, and occurs from western Europe eastwards all the way to the Pacific coast and Japan. It also occurs from Mediterranean islands in the south, all the way up to northern Scandinavia in the north.
However, despite its wide distribution range, the Golden Eagle is absent from large parts of Europe, since it doesn’t thrive in densely populated areas. The biggest populations of the Golden Eagle in Europe are in the Alps, Spain, Scandinavia, and Scotland.
Golden Eagle habitat
In central and southern Europe, the Golden Eagle is mostly found in mountainous areas, while in Scandinavia it is also found at lower altitudes. The Golden Eagle prefers open or lightly wooded areas, where it can use its superior aerial skills to hunt prey out in the open.
The fact that the European Golden Eagle inhabits mostly remote mountains in large parts of its European range is probably due to these regions having the lowest human population densities, instead of being a direct habitat requirement.
Golden Eagle population size
The European population of the Golden Eagle is estimated to be between 8,000 and 11,000 breeding pairs, while the global population is estimated to be between 85,000 and 160,000 by BirdLife International.
Golden Eagle behavior
The most common behavior observed of Golden Eagles is soaring slowly around mountain ridges and canyons, while scouring the ground below for suitable prey. Another common behavior consists of slowly flying at medium height over open ground while searching for food.
Feeding and diet
The main food source of Golden Eagles are mid-sized mammals, which vary depending on the location. In some locations, Marmots are the main prey, while in other areas it can be Hares or Rabbits.
Also takes young individuals of goat and deer species found in its habitat. In addition to mammals, it also takes birds regularly, including grouse and partridge. Overall, the Golden Eagle is very flexible in its choice of prey, and can adapt to many different types of food.
Finally, the Golden Eagle also often feeds on carrion (especially juvenile birds in winter).
The Golden Eagle builds a large nest on cliffs or large trees. The female lays 1-3 eggs on average, but after hatching, the oldest chick usually kills any younger ones that are present. This behavior is called cainism and is common in large raptor species, where it is thought to maximize the chances of survival of a single chick when food is scarce.
The Golden Eagle is a partial migratory bird, with central and southern European populations being largely sedentary, while juvenile Golden Eagles in Scandinavia are migratory. However, even in more southern populations, many Golden Eagles are altitudinal migrants that move to lower ground during winter.
Golden Eagle conservation status
Centuries of persecution caused a precipitous decline in Golden Eagle populations all over Europe, but fortunately this has largely been stopped.
However, there are still some areas where active persecution occurs (such as Scotland), which prevents the Golden Eagle from occupying all territories that would otherwise support nesting pairs.
It’s essential to put an end to this persecution, if we want to ensure the best possible future for the Golden Eagles of Europe.
The biggest threat to Golden Eagles are poisoned animal baits that are put out for it, or for wolves or foxes. Unfortunately, Golden Eagles are very partial to eating carrion, which makes them vulnerable to illegal poisoning.
After poisoning, shooting is also a threat, since some game wardens view Golden Eagles as competitors for game animals that need to be eliminated.
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