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The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) called Kungsörn in Skåne, is one of the best-known birds of prey in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the most widely distributed species of eagle. Like all eagles, it belongs to the family Accipitridae. These birds are dark brown, with lighter golden-brown plumage on their napes.
Immature eagles of this species typically have white on the tail and often have white markings on the wings. Golden eagles use their agility and speed combined with powerful feet and massive, sharp talons to snatch up a variety of prey, mainly hares, rabbits, and marmots and other ground squirrels.
Golden eagles maintain home ranges or territories that may be as large as 200 km2. They build large nests in cliffs and other high places to which they may return for several breeding years. Most breeding activities take place in the spring; they are monogamous and may remain together for several years or possibly for life.
Females lay up to four eggs, and then incubate them for six weeks. Typically, one or two young survive to fledge in about three months. These juvenile golden eagles usually attain full independence in the fall, after which they wander widely until establishing a territory for themselves in four to five years.
Once widespread across the Holarctic, it has disappeared from many areas which are now more heavily populated by humans. Despite being extirpated from or uncommon in some of its former range, the species is still widespread, being present in sizeable stretches of Eurasia, North America, and parts of North Africa. It is the largest and least populous of the five species of true accipitrid to occur as a breeding species in both the Palearctic and the Nearctic.
For centuries, this species has been one of the most highly regarded birds used in falconry. Due to its hunting prowess, the golden eagle is regarded with great mystic reverence in some ancient, tribal cultures. It is one of the most extensively studied species of raptor in the world in some parts of its range, such as the Western United States and the Western Palearctic.
Habitat and distribution
Golden eagles are fairly adaptable in habitat but often reside in areas with a few shared ecological characteristics. They are best suited to hunting in open or semi-open areas and search them out year-around. Native vegetation seems to be attractive to them and they typically avoid developed areas of any type from urban to agricultural as well as heavily forested regions.
In desolate areas (e.g., the southern Yukon), they can occur regularly at roadkills and garbage dumps. The largest numbers of golden eagles are found in mountainous regions today, with many eagles doing a majority of their hunting and nesting on rock formations. However, they are not solely tied to high elevations and can breed in lowlands if the local habitats are suitable. Below are more detailed description of habitats occupied by golden eagles in both continents where they occur.
Range of A. chrysaetos
By SanoAK: Alexander Kürthy - Made with Natural Earth. Free vector and raster map data @ naturalearthdata.com.
Range map from BirdLife International 2016. Aquila chrysaetos.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696060A93541662. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22696060A93541662.en.
Downloaded on 28 February 2019 as visual indicator of distribution., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76941267
Range map from www.oiseaux.net - Ornithological Portal Oiseaux.net
www.oiseaux.net is one of those MUST visit pages if you're in to bird watching. You can find just about everything there
The golden eagle is a very large raptor, 66 to 102 centimetres in length. Its wings are broad and the wingspan is 1.8 to 2.34 metres. Golden eagles' wingspan is the fifth largest among living eagle species. Females are larger than males, with a bigger difference in larger subspecies.
Females of the large Himalayan golden eagles are about 37% heavier than males and have nearly 9% longer wings, whereas in the smaller Japanese golden eagles, females are only 26% heavier with around 6% longer wings. In the largest subspecies (A. c. daphanea), males and females weigh typically 4.05 kilograms and 6.35 kg, respectively.
In the smallest subspecies, A. c. japonica, males weigh 2.5 kg and females 3.25 kg. In the species overall, males average around 3.6 kg and females around 5.1 kg. The maximum size of golden eagles is debated. Large subspecies are the heaviest representatives of the genus Aquila and this species is on average the seventh-heaviest living eagle species.
The golden eagle is the second heaviest breeding eagle in North America, Europe and Africa and the fourth heaviest in Asia. For some time, the largest known mass authenticated for a wild female was the specimen from the A. c. chrysaetos subspecies which weighed around 6.7 kg and spanned 2.55 m across the wings.
American golden eagles are typically somewhat smaller than the large Eurasian species, but a massive female that was banded and released in 2006 around Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest became the heaviest wild golden eagle on record, at 7.7 kg. Captive birds have been measured with a wingspan of 2.81 m and a mass of 12.1 kg, though this mass was for an eagle bred for falconry, which tend to be unnaturally heavy.
The standard measurements of the species include a wing chord length of 52–72 cm, a tail length of 26.5–38 cm and a tarsus length of 9.4–12.2 cm. The culmen (upper ridge of beak) reportedly averages around 4.5 cm, with a range of 3.6 to 5 cm. The bill length from the gape measures around 6 cm.
The foot and talons of a golden eagle
By Richard Lydekker - Lydekker, R. 1895 The Royal Natural History. Volume 4. Frederick Warne and Co.
(from www.archive.org), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2021453
The long, straight and powerful hallux-claw (hind claw) can range from 4.5 to 6.34 cm, about one centimetre longer than in a bald eagle and a little more than one centimetre less than a harpy eagle.
Adults of both sexes have similar plumage and are primarily dark brown, with some grey on the inner wing and tail, and a paler, typically golden colour on the back of the crown and nape that gives the species its common name. Unlike other Aquila species, where the tarsal feathers are typically similar in colour to the rest of the plumage, the tarsal feathers of golden eagles tend to be paler, ranging from light golden to white.
In addition, some full-grown birds (especially in North America) have white "epaulettes" on the upper part of each scapular feather tract. The bill is dark at the tip, fading to a lighter horn colour, with a yellow cere. Like many accipitrids, the bare portion of the feet is yellow. There are subtle differences in colouration among subspecies, described below.
Juvenile golden eagles are similar to adults but tend to be darker, appearing black on the back especially in East Asia. They have a less faded colour. Young birds are white for about two-thirds of their tail length, ending with a broad, black band.
Occasionally, juvenile eagles have white patches on the remiges at the bases of the inner primaries and the outer secondaries, forming a crescent marking on the wings which tends to be divided by darker feathers. Rarely, juvenile birds may have only traces of white on the tail. Compared to the relatively consistently white tail, the white patches on the wing are extremely variable; some juveniles have almost no white visible.
Juveniles of less than 12 months of age tend to have the most white in their plumage. By their second summer, the white underwing coverts are usually replaced by a characteristic rusty brown colour. By the third summer, the upper-wing coverts are largely replaced by dark brown feathers, although not all feathers moult at once which leaves many juvenile birds with a grizzled pattern. The tail follows a similar pattern of maturation to the wings.
Due to the variability between individuals, juvenile eagles cannot be reliably aged by sight alone. Many golden eagles still have white on the tail during their first attempt at nesting. The final adult plumage is not fully attained until the birds are between 5 and a half and 6 and a half years old.
This species moults gradually beginning in March or April until September or October each year. Moulting usually decreases in winter. Moult of the contour feathers begins on the head and neck region and progresses along the feather tracts in a general front-to-back direction.
Feathers on head, neck, back and scapulars may be replaced annually. With large feathers of the wing and tail, moult begins with the innermost feathers and proceeds outwards in a straightforward manner known as "descendant" moult.
While many accipitrids are not known for their strong voices, golden eagles have a particular tendency for silence, even while breeding. That being said, some vocalization has been recorded, usually centering around the nesting period. The voice of the golden eagle is considered weak, high, and shrill, has been called "quite pathetic" and "puppy-like", and seems incongruous with the formidable size and nature of the species.
Most known vocalisations seem to function as contact calls between eagles, sometimes adults to their offspring, occasionally territorial birds to intruders and rarely between a breeding pair. In western Montana, nine distinct calls were noted: a chirp, a seeir, a pssa, a skonk, a cluck, a wonk, a honk and a hiss.
Inflying adult bird. Recorded during passive bioaucustic monitoring of breeding pair
In December 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed allowing wind-turbine electric generation companies to kill golden eagles without penalty, so long as "companies take steps to minimize the losses". If issued, the permits would last 30 years, six times the current 5-year permits.
In human culture
Mankind has been fascinated by the golden eagle as early as the beginning of recorded history. Most early-recorded cultures regarded the golden eagle with reverence. It was only after the Industrial Revolution, when sport-hunting became widespread and commercial stock farming became internationally common, that humans started to widely regard golden eagles as a threat to their livelihoods.
This period also brought about the firearm and industrialized poisons, which made it easy for humans to kill the evasive and powerful birds.
Status and conservation
At one time, the golden eagle lived in a great majority of temperate Europe, North Asia, North America, North Africa, and Japan. Although widespread and quite secure in some areas, in many parts of the range golden eagles have experienced sharp population declines and have even been extirpated from some areas.
The number of golden eagles from around the range is estimated to be between 170,000 and 250,000 while the estimates of breeding pairs are from 60,000 to 100,000. It has the largest known range of any member of its family, with a range estimated at about 140 million square kilometers.
If its taxonomic order is considered, it is the second most wide-ranging species after only the osprey (Pandion haliaetus).
Few other eagle species are as numerous, though some species like tawny eagle, wedge-tailed eagle and bald eagle have total estimated populations of a similar size to the golden eagle's despite their more restricted distributions.
The world's most populous eagle may be the African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), which has a stable total population estimated at 300,000 and is found solely in Africa. On a global scale, the golden eagle is not considered threatened by the IUCN.