This magnificent bird is widespread in the wilder country of North America, Europe, and Asia. About the same size as the Bald Eagle, the Golden is less of a scavenger and more of a predator, regularly taking prey up to the size of foxes and cranes. Courage, strength and victory are some of the qualities attributed to the eagle as a popular heraldic symbol.
The golden eagle is a very large, dark brown raptor with broad wings, ranging from 66 to 102 cm (26 to 40 in) in length and from 1.8 to 2.34 m (5 ft 11 in to 7 ft 8 in) in wingspan. This species’ wingspan is the fifth largest amongst extant eagle species. The golden eagle ranks as the second heaviest breeding eagle in North America, Europe and Africa but the fourth heaviest in Asia.
Adults are primarily dark brown in color, with a paler, typically golden color (the source of the species’ common name) on the back of the crown and nape, and some grey on the inner-wing and tail. Unlike in other Aquila species, where the tarsal feathers are typically of a similar color to the rest of the plumage, the tarsal feathers of golden eagles tend to be paler, ranging from light golden to white. The bill is dark at the tip, fading to a lighter horn color, with a yellow cere. As in many acciptrids, the bare portion of the feet is yellow.
The juvenile golden eagle is similar to the adult but tends to be darker, appearing black on the back. Young birds are white for about two-thirds of their tail length ending with a broad, black terminal band.
Usually found alone or in pairs, Golden Eagles typically soar or glide with wings lifted into a slight “V” and the wingtip feathers spread like fingers. They capture prey on or near the ground, locating it by soaring, flying low over the ground, or hunting from a perch.
For centuries, this species has been one of the most highly regarded birds used in falconry, with the Eurasian subspecies having been used to hunt and kill prey such as gray wolves (Canis lupus) in some native communities. Due to its hunting prowess, the golden eagle is regarded with great mystic reverence in some ancient, tribal cultures.
Golden Eagles favor partially or completely open country, especially around mountains, hills, and cliffs. They use a variety of habitats ranging from arctic to desert, including tundra, shrublands, grasslands, coniferous forests, farmland, and areas along rivers and streams.
The golden eagle is the most common national animal in the world, with five nations—Albania, Germany, Austria, Mexico and Kazakhstan—making it the national animal. It is also a common motif in the national symbols of countries that have not officially made it the national animal or national bird. The reasons for this are various, but among the nations that use the golden eagle as or in a state symbol, there are two clear traditions that help explain the modern usage. Among European countries, the golden eagle was the model for the aquila, the most prominent symbol of the Roman legions and more generally the Roman civilization that had such a powerful impact on Western culture; furthermore, some classical Roman traditions were carried on by the Eastern Roman Empire in the Southern and Eastern of Europe and the Holy Roman Empire in Central and Western Europe, transmitting the use of the golden eagle to several modern states.