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Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle, Vancouver Island, BC
Golden Eagle, Vancouver Island, BC, Photo Copyright By Sean McCann

The Golden Eagle is a very large, dark brown bird of prey. Adults are distinguished by golden-brown feathers on the back of the head, neck, and upper wings. They have gold-flecked brownish eyes, the bald eagle’s eyes are much more yellow.

From a distance, golden eagles may be confused with dark-headed, immature bald eagles.  These young birds have not yet attained the characteristic white-headed plumage of adulthood.

The golden eagle typically hunts in dry, rugged open country and grasslands,  over which it soars in search of small mammals and other prey. It likes to nest on cliff sides. They will usually construct a large stick nest on a cliff ledge. However, it will occasionally nest in trees, and, in the far north, will nest directly on the open tundra. Starting about 3 months before egg-laying, the Golden Eagle pair will build a nest out of sticks and plant material. These nests will sometimes incorporate other materials in them, like animal bones, fencing wire, and even fence posts. They line the nest with locally available vegetation, such as grasses, bark, leaves, mosses, and lichens, or evergreen boughs. They often include aromatic leaves, possibly to keep insect pests at bay. The birds will continue using the same nest for multiple seasons, adding more material each year. Nests can become very large, the largest nest recorded was 6 meters tall and 1.5 meters across.

The golden eagle has a widespread distribution in the western parts of North America, and from Asia and Europe to North Africa. In North America, it is found from Northern Canada and Alaska, south to Mexico.

To the east, it occurs across northern Canada, and in forested mountain regions of the eastern United States, where it is extremely rare. They are fairly common in the Pacific Northwest.

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