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Juvenile Subadult Subadult Subadult and adult

© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Jouko Lehmuskallio, M. & W. von Wright: Svenska fåglar (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland). Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.

Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos

  • Family: Hawks – Accipitridae
  • Appearance: A large bird-of-prey with long wings and tail. Tail roughly half as long as the bird’s wings are wide. When soaring or gliding wings held in a slight v-shape.
  • Size: Length 80–93 cm (31–36 in), wingspan 190–225 cm (74–88 in), weight, male 3–4.4 kg (6.5–10 lb), female 3.8–6 kg (8–13 lb).
  • Nest: Often a huge pile of sticks (up to 2 m wide and 3 m high), commonly in a pine tree, but sometimes in other trees or on a rock ledge. Pairs may have several nests, used alternately. Lined with small twigs, grass, moss and lichen. Nests also decorated with fresh green pine branches (even when not in use).
  • Breeding: 2–3 eggs (average 3) laid from early March, mainly incubated by female, for 42–45 days. Young birds able to fly within 68–77 days.
  • Distribution: Breeds in Northern Finland from North Karelia to Lapland, and also in the Suomenselkä region. Seen in other areas on migration or during the winter. Will only breed in areas with extensive forests. Formerly persecuted widely, especially by reindeer-herders, but a new compensation system has virtually eliminated such incidents. Present Finnish population estimated at 350 pairs.
  • Migration: Autumn migration begins in late September, with birds returning from early March. Winters in Finland, the Baltic Countries, Ukraine and Southern Russia.
  • Diet: Mammals (as large as foxes, sheep and even reindeer calves), birds (ranging in size from thrushes to cranes or swans), and carrion.
  • Calls: Seldom heard ringing “kyaak” or cackles similar to gulls’ calls.
  • Endangerment: Vulnerable, protected in Finland (globally Least concern). Also nest tree is protected.

Mature Golden Eagles are pale brown with golden heads and necks. Their wings and undertails are dark greyish brown, and the bases of their wing and tail feathers are marked with indistinct darker and paler streaks. They often have pale reddish brown patches on their chests, the leading edges of their wings, and their central underparts. Irregular whitish patches of varying size may be visible near the joints of their wings, formed by their larger central and inner wing covert feathers.

The plumages of juvenile Golden Eagles exhibit greater colour contrasts. Wing feathers are an even dark grey, with no streaking. Their primaries and some secondaries have whitish patches nearer their bases, and their upper and lower wing coverts are an even blackish brown. Juveniles’ tails are mainly white with a broad black band along their tips. Juveniles gradually grow to resemble adult birds more closely, but they only gain their full adult plumage after their fifth moult. The reddish markings on their bellies and backs become more pronounced as they age. Golden Eagles have yellow talons with feathers over their upper legs and blackish beaks with yellow ceres. Irises are brown on young birds and yellowish red on mature birds.

Golden Eagles fly strongly, often with 6–8 wingbeats followed by a straight glide lasting several seconds. When soaring, they hold their long wings upwards in a slight v-shape.

Other species from the same family

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