New York Natural Heritage Program
Golden Eagle
Aquila chrysaetos (Linnaeus, 1758)

General Description [-]
This is a very large raptor with a wingspan up to 6 ft. and weighing 10 lbs. Adults have dark brown plumage, a golden wash on the back of the head and neck, and the tail is faintly banded. Immatures have white at the base of the primaries and a white tail with a dark terminal band. All ages have fully feathered tarsi (legs).

Identifying Characteristics [-]
This bird is mostly silent, except during breeding season when 9 different calls are employed (chirp, seeir, pssa, skonk, rattle, chirp, or cluck, wonk, wip, honk, and hiss). The nest is built of sticks and is somewhat smaller than a Bald Eagle nest with the largest on record being 6 meters tall and 2.5 meters wide. The eggs are white, ovate and about 75 mm x 57 mm (Kochert et al. 2002).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The large size, golden nape, feathered tarsi, and wings held at slight dihedral in flight distinguish this species from other raptors.

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification [-]

Behavior [-]
This raptor is highly territorial, defense is usually accomplished by undulating flight displays, and chase behaviors. Pairs as well as adults and juveniles use cooperative hunting tactics (Johnsgard 1990). Usually monogamous, pairs are often assumed to mate for life, but data are needed to affirm this assumption. Lost mates are replaced quickly, inferring a large unmated floater segment in the population. Usually nests on cliffs, but also in very large White Pine trees, building huge stick nests. One pair will establish several nests within their home range prior to choosing one active nest in which to lay. Females will forego nesting in years with low prey densities (Kochert et al. 2002).

Diet [-]
Takes mostly mammals in the western states, especially jackrabbits, but also marmots and ground squirrels. In the Appalachians, owing to different habitat conditions, Golden Eagles prey more heavily on wetland birds. At a former nesting site in the Adirondacks, Spofford (1971) mentioned 20 American Bitterns brought to a single nestling eagle in one location, along with many Great-blue Herons, Snowshoe Hares, Cottontails, Canada Geese and Woodchucks. Carrion, especially deer carcasses, are an important food item in winter.
Golden Eagle Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
The phenology depicted below is for the wintering birds in Dutchess County. The eagle(s) typically show up in October and remain through March, although there is much annual variability in arrival and departure dates.
The time of year you would expect to find Golden Eagle present (green shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
    Juvenile Bald Eagles can be mistaken for Golden Eagles, but show much more white on the the undersides, hold their wings straighter in flight and have a dark (not golden) head.
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
    Golden Eagles are much larger than Turkey Vultures, with longer wings and steadier flight.