Golden Eagle Facts: Wingspan, Diet & Size (Ultimate Guide)


The golden eagle is a large and beautiful raptor with habitats ranging much of the Northern Hemisphere. The adults are mostly dark brown with a goldish hue, hence their name.

When flying their wings often hold a slight V-shape. They mainly prey on small mammals in remote, open areas from grasslands and steppes to mountainous areas in North America and Eurasia. 

The golden eagle plays an important role in many Native American tribes, and is revered for its courage and strength, and people who possessed their feathers were believed to have been blessed by its being.

What Is A Golden Eagle?

Here are some fast facts about the golden eagle:          

  • The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is a bird of prey native to North America and Eurasia.
  • They are named for their distinctive goldish-brown plumage.
  • They feed on a variety of prey, including fish, birds, and small mammals.
  • They mate for life and often reuse the same nest year after year.
  • They’re one of the most well-distributed eagles in the world area-wise.

How Big Is A Golden Eagle?

Photo: Yrjö Jyske / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Golden eagles are large birds of prey, with a wingspan that can range from 6 to 7.5 feet. This is one of the larger wingspans among eagles, and it allows them to soar and glide effortlessly over long distances. 

They are usually about 30 inches long and weigh 7 to 14 pounds. 

However, there is considerable variation in size within the species, with some individuals being significantly larger or smaller than average and their size varies a lot depending on which part of the world they’re living in.

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As a rule of thumb, golden eagles from northern parts of the world tend to be the largest, and the North American subspecies tend to be larger than their European and Asian cousins.

The largest subspecies of the golden eagle is considered to be the North American golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos canadensis), and is found in Alaska and Canada, as well as some mountainous parts of the western United States. 

This subspecies is the largest of them all and can weigh between 9 and 14 pounds, with a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet.

In Asia, the subspecies is the Siberian golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos daphanea) which is also quite large, averaging in weight 8 and 11 pounds and wingspan of around 7 feet.

In Europe, the subspecies (Aquila chrysaetos chrysaetos) are found there. It is slightly smaller than the American and Asian subspecies, with an average weight of 6 and 9 pounds and a wingspan of around 6.5 and 7 feet.


The lifespan of a golden eagle in the wild is typically about 15 to 20 years, although some individuals have been known to live longer. In captivity, golden eagles can live for up to 30 years or more with proper care. 

The lifespan of an individual eagle can be influenced by a variety of factors, including its diet, habitat, and overall health. 

Golden eagles are strong and hardy birds that are well-suited to life in the wild, and they are able to survive and thrive in a variety of challenging environments.

What Do Golden Eagles Eat?

Golden eagles are carnivorous birds of prey that primarily feed on small mammals, such as rabbits, hares, rodents, and marmots. They are also known to hunt birds, reptiles, and insects, and they will occasionally scavenge carrion when food conditions are bad. 

Golden eagles are skilled hunters that use their keen eyesight and powerful talons to capture and kill their prey. They are able to locate prey from great distances and are capable of flying at high speeds to pursue and catch their prey. 

Golden eagles are opportunistic feeders that will take whatever food is available, and they are adapted to a wide range of dietary preferences depending on their habitat. 

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Birds living in landlocked locations typically depend more on mammals than the individuals living near coastlines or large bodies of freshwater.

How Strong Are Golden Eagles?

Golden eagles are large, powerful birds of prey that are well-known for their strength and hunting abilities. They have strong, muscular bodies and powerful wings that allow them to fly at high speeds and soar and glide for long distances. 

Golden eagles also have sharp talons and beaks that they use to capture and kill their prey. Their talons are particularly powerful, and they are able to exert a force of up to 700 pounds per square inch when grasping prey. 

The golden eagle is able to lift around 12-15 pounds with its talons, making it technically able to lift a small child off the ground.

This makes them one of the strongest birds of prey in the world and allows them to successfully hunt a wide variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Conservation Status

Golden eagles are classified as a species of “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This means that they are not currently considered to be at risk of extinction, and there are stable or increasing populations in many parts of their range. 

However, golden eagles are still vulnerable to habitat loss and other human-induced threats, and they are protected by law in many countries. 

In some areas, populations of golden eagles have declined due to habitat loss, persecution, and other factors, and conservation efforts are needed to ensure that these birds continue to thrive.

At the start of the 18th century, the population of golden eagles in the United States was thriving.

However, by the 20th century, the widespread use of the DDT pesticide by farmers had a devastating impact on all bird species, including the golden eagle. 

DDT bioaccumulated in the food web, with the golden eagle at the top, and caused the birds to have poor eggshell formation, leading to collapsing eggs during brooding.

The inability to reproduce successfully had a significant impact on the population of golden eagles and other bird species.

In 1819, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act provided the first protection for golden eagles. 

Later, in 1940, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was passed, prohibiting commercial trapping and killing of the birds, helping to stabilize their population decline. 

Additional restrictions were put in place in 1962 and 1972. 

Finally, in 1972, DDT was banned in the United States, resulting in a significant increase in golden eagle populations.

Where Can You Find Golden Eagles?

Photo: J. Maughn / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Golden eagles are found in a variety of habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including Europe, Asia, and North America. 

They are most commonly found in open, expansive habitats that provide them with plenty of space to soar and glide, and they are often found in areas with abundant prey populations. 

Golden eagles are also found in many national parks, wildlife refuges, and other protected areas, and these can be good places to see and observe these birds.

The largest concentration of Golden eagles can be found in Asia, specifically in the Eurasian steppe, which spans from Eastern Europe to Central Asia. 

This region is home to the nominate subspecies of golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos chrysaetos), which is considered the most widespread subspecies of Golden Eagle.

The area covers countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia, which have large expanses of grasslands and semi-deserts. 

These open habitats provide ideal hunting grounds for golden eagles, and the region is home to large populations of small mammals, such as marmots, ground squirrels, and hares, which are the primary prey of golden eagles.

In North America, the greatest concentration of golden eagles is found in Alaska and western Canada, where they breed in mountainous areas and migrate to lower elevations during the winter months. 

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In the lower 48 states, golden eagles are found in the West, especially in California and the Great Basin area where they are concentrated in the wintertime.


Golden eagles are large, powerful birds of prey that are at the top of the food chain in many of the environments they inhabit. As a result, they have few natural predators. 

However, they are occasionally preyed upon by other large carnivores, such as wolves and bears, and they may also be attacked by other eagles or large birds of prey. Their eggs are also susceptible to being robbed by opportunistic feeders. 

Golden eagles are also vulnerable to human-induced threats, such as habitat loss, persecution, and collision with man-made structures. 

In general, however, golden eagles are strong and hardy birds that are well-suited to life in the wild, and they are able to defend themselves against most threats.

Migration Behavior

Golden eagles are known for their ability to fly long distances and can cover up to 500 miles in a single day. 

Their migration behavior varies among populations, some migrate seasonally to exploit food and weather conditions, while others are residents, remaining in the same area year-round. 

They usually migrate during fall and winter, sticking to the same routes year after year, they travel alone or in small groups. They are adapted to long-distance flight and use a combination of flapping and gliding to travel great distances.

Golden eagles that breed in the northern latitudes such as Alaska, Canada, and Siberia tend to migrate southward to lower elevations in search of food during the winter months. 

In the lower 48 states, golden eagles tend to migrate from the northern states to the southern states and they tend to stay in the areas where food is most abundant.

The migration patterns of golden eagles can be different depending on the population and their specific habitat region.

Are Golden Eagles Aggressive?

Golden eagles are large, powerful birds of prey that are known for their hunting skills and territorial behavior. They are generally not aggressive towards humans, and encounters with people are rare. 

However, like any wild animal, golden eagles may become defensive or aggressive if they feel threatened or if their young are in danger.

They are known to protect their offspring from wolves, bears, and other predators and are able to fend them off due to their sharp talons. 

Golden eagles are protected by law in many countries, and it is therefore illegal to harm or harass these birds as well as their nests. In general, it is best to observe Golden Eagles from a distance and to respect their space.

The Kazakh people of Mongolia and Central Asia have a long tradition of using golden eagles for hunting. They have been training and hunting with Golden Eagles for centuries, and it is an important part of their cultural heritage.

The tradition of eagle hunting is called “berkutchi,” and it is passed down through generations. 

Golden eagles are typically caught as young birds, and they are trained to hunt small mammals such as foxes, hares, and marmots. 

The bond between the eagle hunter and their bird is considered sacred, and the eagle is treated with great care and respect.

This video demonstrates how an eagle hunt looks from the perspective of the eagle.

How Smart Are Golden Eagles?

Golden eagles are known for their intelligence and problem-solving abilities, as well as their adaptability in different environments and situations. 

They possess the capacity to learn and retain complex tasks, which they use in the wild to locate and capture prey and adjust hunting strategies in response to fluctuations in prey populations and conditions. 

In addition to this, they exhibit high levels of social behavior and communication skills. 

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Golden eagles possess the ability to communicate with each other through a range of vocalizations and gestures. They recognize and form strong bonds with their family members such as their mates and offspring.

Golden eagles have also been observed using cliffs as a means to kill animals that are too large for them to fly with. It’s not an uncommon sight to see a golden eagle drag or push a goat off a large cliff to kill it.

Do Golden Eagles Mate For Life?

Golden eagles are known for their tendency to form long-lasting and strong bonds with their partners. Once paired, they usually stay together for many years, and only seek a new mate when their original partner dies. 

Golden eagles usually start forming pairs when they are between 3-5 years old. They have a highly territorial behavior and they defend their territories fiercely from other eagles. 

During the breeding season, they engage in elaborate courtship rituals that involve vocalizations, displays, and other forms of communication. 

The male golden eagle will pick up a rock or small stick, drop it mid-air and catch it again as a form of play or display. Similarly, the female golden eagle will do the same, using a clump of dirt or earth.

They establish strong bonds with their offspring, often working together to raise their young. Typically, golden eagles begin nesting in February, and their eggs hatch around mid-April. 

They build their nests in tall trees and both the male and female participate in the building of the nest which is made of a large number of sticks, lined with materials such as grass, feathers, cigarette filters, and moss. 

They often reuse the same nests for many years, making them large and elaborate.

Golden Eagle Symbolism

Golden eagles are often seen as symbols of power, strength, and freedom.

They are known for their large size, sharp talons, and powerful hunting skills, and they are revered as symbols of nobility and leadership in many cultures. 

Golden eagles are also symbolling of the natural world and are often used as emblems or logos for organizations that work to protect the environment. 

In many Native American cultures, the golden eagle is seen as a messenger to the spirit world and a protector of the tribe.

Interesting Facts About Golden Eagles

The following are more fun facts about the golden eagle:

  • Golden eagles are among the fastest birds in the world, and they are able to reach high speeds of over 200 miles per hour when diving to catch prey. 
  • Golden eagles have a unique way of hunting, they use a maneuver called the “stoop” which is a rapid dive to grab their prey with their feet. They dive at high speed and pull up at the last moment to grab the prey with their talons.
  • Golden eagles have excellent eyesight, they can spot prey from over 2 miles away and can even see ultraviolet light, which allows them to detect urine trails from potential prey.
  • Golden eagles are known to mimic the calls of other birds, including the calls of other Golden eagles. They can also mimic the calls of prey species, such as small mammals, which allows them to lure their prey closer.
  • Golden eagles are highly territorial and will defend their territories against other eagles, birds of prey, and even animals such as bears or wolves.
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Jacob Irgens-Møller Nielsen

Jacob Irgens-Møller Nielsen is a Danish ecologist, birder and freelance writer. Aside from being a freelance writer and owning a small drone mapping and consulting business, he also works for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, where he is managing the Danish Natura 2000-areas and Bird Protection areas. Apart from his work he’s also an avid rock climber and photographer and enjoys bird spotting around the Wadden Sea on the Danish west coast

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