The Golden Eagle is now mainly found in remote Scottish mountains. Gamekeepers and egg collectors persecuted it almost to extinction, but it is now specially protected. In their natural environment they are fairly long-living birds, reaching the ripe old age of thirty-two.
The Golden Eagle is much larger than a Buzzard, in fact nearly twice the size. They are a uniform dark brown with yellow brown head and look all dark from below (unlike Buzzard). They have a wingspan of over two metres and their tail and head protrudes prominently when flying. Their flight is slow and laboured with deep wingbeats, though the Golden Eagle mostly soars and glides holding their wings in a shallow ‘V’ where the fingered wing tips are obvious to see. They have massive yellow feet, perfect for catching medium-sized animals. The female is bigger than the male and the youngsters differ from their parents by having white patches on their wings and tail. It takes a young Golden Eagle seven years to reach full adult plumage. For a bird that is so big. They make very little noise, using their excellent eyesight to find a mate instead. They make rare yelping ‘kyek’ calls.
Golden Eagles hunt during daylight hours. They often go days without food before having a big feast. They eat carrion, mammals (like hares, rabbits, squirrels, young foxes) and birds (like grouse, crows, gulls). Golden Eagles maintain some of the largest known territories of any bird species and can be as big as 200 square km!
They are monogamous and may remain together for life. The courtship includes undulating displays by both birds. The male picks up a piece of rock or a small stick and drops it, then enters into a steep dive to catch it in mid air, repeating this three or more times. In response, the female takes a clump of earth, drops it and catches it in the same fashion. So she gets a nice rock, and he gets dirt. Pretty normal relationship then.
An Eagle’s nest, called an ‘eyrie’, is an extensive structure of branches, usually built on a cliff ledge. Two eggs are laid in March some days apart and mum then does most of the incubation. Each egg hatches after 43 days. If there is not enough food available, the elder chick will kill the younger one so often only one chick is raised. It pays to be nice to your older brother or sister. Both mum and dad feed what chicks there are which can fly after 65 days. They then fed the youngsters for a further 3 months until they are fully independent by autumn. The young Eagles wander widely until they establish a territory for themselves which can take four to five years.
The Golden Eagle is mainly resident with only the young wandering from the breeding site. There are 440 pairs distributed in wilder parts of Scotland. Their Latin name is ’aquila chrysaetos’ where ’aquila’ is Latin for ‘eagle’ and ’chrysaetos’ is Ancient Greek for ‘golden eagle’ from ’khrusos’, ‘gold’ and ’aetos’, ‘eagle’. Double eagle in case you forgot how big they are.