| Sep 24, 2009

Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'Lakes - September 24, 2009 The Golden Eagleby Lorraine Julien

With a flash of golden brown feathers and golden outstretched talons, we were treated to our first look at a huge Golden Eagle intent on catching its prey as it crossed Highway 7 near Marmora this past summer, just a few feet in front of our vehicle. What an impressive sight!

More savage and fierce than even the Bald Eagle, the powerful and beautiful Golden Eagle (Aquila Chrysaetos) is one of North America’s largest birds of prey. It has been called the King of Birds.

Golden Eagles are a similar size to Bald Eagles, though some may even be larger, with a wingspan up to eight feet across and an average weight up to 16 lbs. Golden Eagles are generally dark brown with lighter golden brown plumage on their heads and necks. When viewed in flight, however, the underside of the tail is white banded with white areas under the wings. Besides their physical differences, adult Golden Eagles are far wilder than their Bald Eagle cousins. They tend to shy away from areas of human development so their numbers in eastern North America have dwindled. They crave solitude and for this reason Golden Eagles much prefer the mountains of western Canada and the U.S. to live and raise their young.

Golden Eagles are lightning fast and can dive at their quarry at speeds of more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) per hour! This extreme speed and the razor sharp talons are used to catch rabbits, ground squirrels, birds, fish, reptiles and even large insects. They’ve even been known, on rare occasions, to attack wolves and even full-sized deer, probably those that are sick, old or snowbound. Attacks such as this usually occur when we have an especially severe winter and deer, and other, carcasses are not readily available.

Farmers and ranchers used to kill these birds as they feared they would prey on their livestock. Studies showed though that the impact of the eagles was minimal. Today, in Ontario, the Golden Eagle is listed under Ontario’s “Endangered Species Act, 2007” as shown in an excellent information booklet recently distributed by the Township of North Frontenac. The Act protects certain species from being killed, harmed, possessed, collected or sold, and protects the habitat from damage or destruction. The “Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act” also provides protection to these species.

Migration counts suggest that populations may be increasing in northeastern Canada, including eastern Ontario. According to the joint Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Royal Ontario Museum website, 200 Golden Eagles have been observed at major “hawk watch” points in southern Ontario.

According to the Environment Canada website, some Golden Eagles may winter in southern Ontario although it appears most birds from northeastern Canada and the U.S. migrate south. Eagles in western North America, particularly in the mountain ranges, do not usually migrate.

Golden Eagle territories may be as large as 60 square miles (155 square kilometers). Like the Bald Eagle, they may remain with their mate for several years or even for life. With luck, the average lifespan in the wild is about 30 years. Huge nests, built mainly of sticks, are situated in tall trees, at the top of telephone or hydro poles or on rocky cliffs. They usually return to the same nest year after year. One to four eggs are incubated by both parents for 40 to 45 days with one or two young surviving to fledge in about three months.

Threats to the Golden Eagle include habitat destruction, probably the main factor in their decline by the late 19th century, and the same problem exists today. By the mid 20th century, pesticides accelerated the population decline, along with limited food availability in certain areas. Collisions with power lines have also become a significant cause of mortality in the last century.

In some cultures, the eagle is a sacred bird with eagle feathers used in many religions and spiritual customs, especially among native peoples in the U.S. and Canada. Traditionally, eagle feathers were often worn on native headdresses and were used in native ceremonies honouring achievements displaying exceptional leadership and bravery.

If you are ever lucky enough to see one of these beautiful birds, it is a truly awesome sight and something you will never forget. 

Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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