South Dakota Bald Eagle Awareness Days         Bald Eagle Awareness Days
Golden Eagle Biology

Click to enlargeScientific Name: Aquila chrysaetos; named for the Greek words for golden eagle.

Life Span: Based on banding records, most birds live less than two years, although some wild birds have lived to be 11 years old. One captive bird lived to age 48.

Measurements: Males range from 6.5- 9.5 pounds, females from 8-13 pounds. The golden eagle is 30-40 inches in length with a wingspread of 60-80 inches. Females are generally larger, although there is some size overlap.

Range: The golden eagle ranges throughout most of North America and in portions of Eurasia and northern Africa. This species breeds in the western United States and parts of the southwestern Canadian provinces and northern Mexico. Any of the lower 48 states may have migrant or wintering birds. In South Dakota, golden eagles nest mainly west of the Missouri River, but may winter in other parts of the state.

Coloration: The golden eagle is named for the golden brown feathers of its head and nape. Its eyes and beak are dark-colored. The body is mostly dark brown, and feathers completely cover its legs. Juvenile golden eagles have white patches in the wings and a white tail with a black band on the outer edge.

Diet: Rodents, such as ground squirrels and marmots, are important golden eagle foods, as are lagomorphs, such as cottontails and jackrabbits. Golden eagles sometimes feed on deer and pronghorn fawns and domestic livestock. Golden eagles commonly feed on carrion, or dead animals. Since these birds are large and visible, many people assume they have killed what they are eating, which is commonly untrue.

Nest: The pair nests on ledges of rocky cliffs or in large trees. The nest may be eight feet in diameter and be used for many years. Golden eagles usually build their nests of sticks and line them with a softer material, such as roots or moss. They incubate their clutch of one to three dull white eggs for 43-45 days. The female may do most of the incubating, although the male brings food to the nest for the female to feed the young. Golden eagles commonly alternate between one or more nest sites from year to year.

Pair Bond: Golden eagles are believed to mate for life. However, a lost mate is quickly replaced by another. Displays include the sky-dance and tumbling through the air. A pair may use other displays, such as talon grasping and cartwheeling, when defending its territory. Golden eagles may be quite protective of their young. Adults may feed young for several months after young birds can fly. Some family groups may migrate together.

Protection Status: The Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects the golden eagle, along with other migratory birds. This species enjoys added protection with the bald eagle under the Bald Eagle Protection Act. This act protects eagles from harm and prohibits taking of eagles, their eggs or nests without a special permit. Special taking permits are sometimes given for animal damage control, scientific research, species recovery, religious uses, and falconry.

 Bald Eagle Awareness Days

 Watching Eagles


 Educational Activities


Download an eagle brochure (PDF file) by clicking here. Brochures can be obtained from the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks at 523 East Capitol Avenue in Pierre, South Dakota 57501.  If you have questions or comments, email or call the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks at (605) 773-4229.