Golden Eagle

Aquila chrysaetos



This striking and much-admired raptor is larger than the Buzzard; its wings are almost twice as long and they narrow more towards the base, and the tail is quite long, too. The bill is strong, the plumage mostly dark brown though the feathers on the back pale at the margins, and the neck and head are golden-tinged. The tail is barred, though this isn't always obvious; when flying, the edges of the wings may seem to swell, and the head is distinctly in front of the wings. The male is smaller than the female. Juvenile birds are similar to adults, though they have white patches on the wings, and the base of the tail is white with a dark tip. The whiteness at the base of flight feathers varies as immature birds age.


When in the UK, this eagle lives in remote, higher regions in the north and northwest, particularly the Scottish Highlands and Islands, and a small number in northern England. It prefers rugged, open country, moorlands and mountain ranges.


Often soars high and easily on air currents, though flight looks more difficult on take-off, when in display, and of course, when it carries prey. When birds are displaying, pairs circle upwards in close proximity to each other, then they dive steeply and suddenly; the process is repeated in loops. At other times, birds may be seen in solitude or in pairs.


Diet consists of birds such as grouse, crows, seabirds and wildfowl, and also mammals from voles to young otters and foxes. Will also eat carrion, particularly of deer and sheep.


Recycles old nest, adding to it each year; nests are usually on cliff ledges or older trees. In March or early April the female lays 1-3 eggs which she incubates for 43-45 days. The eggs hatch at different times and an older chick may kill a younger one. Both parents feed the young, who can fly after about 65 days; full independence isn't gained for another 90 days.


Golden Eagles who are resident in Britain don't usually stray much distance from their territory, but populations from further north may depart their breeding grounds in autumn, to return in spring. Approximately 440 pairs breed in Scotland, and following a reintroduction scheme in Northern Ireland, some birds are now nesting there too.

Observation Tips

Not difficult to find in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, particularly far-range views of flying birds. Cairngorm Mountains may provide opportunities for closer-range encounters.


Utters an occasional yelp call.
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