California Raptor Center

Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos
(Aquila is Latin for eagle, chrysos is Greekfor golden, aetos is Greek for eagle).

Size: Length: 27-33in Wingspan: 72-87in        

Weight: Female: 4050-5720g (~8.9-12.6lb) Male: 3550-4400g (~7.8-9.7lb)

Lifespan: Golden Eagles have an average lifespan of 18 years in the wild and 45 years or more in captivity.

ID: Both adults and juveniles have very dark bodies. Juveniles have white patches on the middle of both sides of their wings and a reddish head. Adults also have reddish heads and lighter patches on the tops of their wings.

Hunting: They usually hunt from flying at low altitudes or from perches, swooping down and catching their prey.

Prey: They generally eat small animals like rabbits. They can also eat carrion.

Breeding: Golden Eagles build large nests of sticks in elevated locations, such as trees. They breed from March to August, depending on their location. They lay clutches of 1 to 4 eggs, which hatch after 35 to 45 days. The chicks leave the nest after 41 to 85 days, after which it takes 32 to 80 days to reach full independence.

Range: They are partial migrators. They are primarily found in the Western United States, but their summer range extends up to Alaska, and can be found as far east as Quebec.

Status: This is a protected species.

Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of the largest birds of prey in the US. Females can weigh up to 15 pounds (males about eight pounds), with a wingspan of approximately seven feet. Goldens are found throughout North America, but are more common in the West. Most California goldens live in the state year round, but some from the high country move down to the Valley and coastal regions in winter, and birds that nest in Washington and Canada often migrate into our area when the weather turns cold.

These glorious birds inhabit forests, canyons, semi-arid deserts, grasslands, and open oak woodlands. They hunt in the open, soaring and diving, or pouncing from a perch. But they are quite capable of strong, fast flight and can bring down surprisingly large prey, such as small deer and pronghorns. They may feed on carrion, as well, particularly in winter.

Between the ages of four to five years, goldens reach sexual maturity, choose mates and establish a breeding territory. Every year, they build or repair their huge platform nests on cliffs or tall trees, beginning in December and January. According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, a pair will produce one to three eggs a year, though usually only one chick survives to fledging. The young bird may stay with its parents until late autumn, or even longer.

Reproduction in Golden Eagles, as in many predators, is affected by the availability of food. In years of scarce prey, a pair may not lay eggs at all. Since the 1990s, California has been in a prolonged drought, with occasional wet years, a pattern that reduces the numbers of prey animals. Our eagles may be declining as well.

There are many threats to these great birds, headed by loss of hunting and nesting areas. They also die from pesticide poisoning (eating poisoned prey), gunshot wounds, lead poisoning (ingesting pellets or bullet fragments), and collision with man-made structures – significantly, wind turbines.

It is unclear what trauma Sullivan—one of the raptor center’s resident goldens—sustained to his wing.  The Raptor Center's other long-term Golden Eagle ambassadors illustrate two of the most significant problems: Fuzzy, despite treatment for a broken wing, was unable to fly again after she flew into a wind turbine in 1995; Aquila, a favorite of visitors for more than 30 years, was shot in the wing in 1982.

For more information on Golden Eagles in California:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/raptors/goldeneagle/

Audubon California:  http://ca.audubon.org/golden-eagle