Within its size range, the Golden Eagle is probably the most numerous in the world. Of all the large eagles, it is the bird of the mountain ranges, most others favouring plains, woodland and swamps.
It is described as holarctic, which indicates that it is present throughout the Northern Hemisphere, where it extends as far south as North Africa, Arabia, the Himalayas and Mexico. The northernmost groupings migrate south for the winter.
The home range of a pair of Golden Eagles varies according to area - in Scotland it is between 11,000 and 18,000 acres (4,500-7,300 ha). In parts of America it can be up to 200 square miles (500 sq km) although only a proportion of this area meay be suitable for hunting.
Throughout its substantial range, the Golden Eagle and its subordinate races show a marked preference for mammals as their food source (from 70 to 98 percent by weight). When mammals are rarer the Golden Eagle will take game birds and carrion, with occasional snakes, lizards and other birds.
Despite the stories attached to it, the Golden Eagle is unable to take any animal weighing much more than 11 lbs (5 Kg), and the daily food requirement of each bird is only around 8-9 ounces (225-250 grams)
The Golden Eagle is generally a quiet bird. Occasionally it utters a loud, clear yelping call, and mewing cries in display.
Young at the nest calling for food have clucking calls, and in anger make a harsh, high pitched chattering sound.
Status and behaviour in the wild
The Golden Eagle, in temperate areas, takes care of its nest all year round, and nuptial displays can be seen at any time (although these are much more spectacular in springtime, at the onset of the breeding season).
These birds are believed to mate for life, and build their nests on ledges or crags. They frequently have more than one nest (usually 3-4 but sometimes up to 10), which they use on alternate years. These nests are built up over time and can measure as much as 8-10 feet (3m) across and 3-4 feet (1m) deep. The largest ever measured was sited in a tree and was four feet (1.2 m) across and 17 feet (5.2 m) deep!
Two eggs are often laid at 3-4 day intervals. Incubation is 43-45 days. In 80% of cases where two eggs hatch, the elder chick kills the younger. Fledging is at 65-70 days, and the young usually achieves independance after a further 3 months
The Golden Eagle is a supreme flier. Using the rising air on the sides of their mountain habitat, they rise and spiral high into the air, covering vast areas of ground, until they are all but invisible to the naked eye.
Riding the air currents between ridges, it glides down, at speeds of up to 120mph (190kph) then swoops up gracefully to its next landing point.
Its flight is equally graceful when moving slowly in still air, or battling against near hurricane force headwinds.
Occasionally, they dive vertically onto their prey, and at that times their speed is said to rival that of the fastest falcons!