A golden eagle is a large, carnivorous bird native to Europe, North America, and parts of Africa. This efficient predator is notable for the beautiful chestnut and gold plumage found on the head and neck of adult birds. Despite habitat destruction leading to an overall population decline, the mighty golden eagle maintains strong numbers throughout a wide global range.
Golden eagles are notable for a large wingspan, reaching over 7 feet (2.1 meters) in large varieties. Although most adults are brown all over with the exception of the golden-brown crown, juvenile birds have patches of white feathers, particularly on the tail and wings. The lifespan of the birds is typically between 10-20 years.
With their extensive range comes variation in size, habitat, and feeding patterns. The largest variety lives in the United States and Canada, reaches over 40 inches (1.01 meters) in height and can weigh more than 20 lbs (9.07 kilograms). Many golden eagles have broad territories in mountainous areas, but some have moved into lower forests due to habitat depletion. All golden eagles are carnivorous, eating large rodents and mammals. Some of the larger varieties have been known to attack livestock, such as sheep, goats, and cows.
Depending on their location, golden eagles may migrate with the seasons if food becomes scarce. Not being reliant on crops or plants for food, these migrations are typically short and over small distances. Since the territory of a mated pair is frequently very large, many birds are able to stay in the same location year round.
Mating among the golden eagle species begins with the selection of a partner; most varieties are monogamous and stay together for life. Golden eagles frequently begin to mate at about four years of age. A female typically lays one to two eggs, though usually only the first born eagle survives. Egg incubation lasts over a month, but chicks require careful parenting for many weeks after hatching. The scarcity of resources and often forbidding locations of eagle nests cause a high infant mortality rate.
Despite all the wonders of its natural life cycle, the golden eagle is perhaps best known for its place in heraldry, symbolism, and religion. Several countries include the bird as a symbol, either as the national bird or as part of the country's coat of arms. Use of the golden eagle in heraldry dates back thousands of years; both ancient Roman and Middle Eastern armies had the eagle as a symbol.