Wildlife In Focus | Golden Eagle

David Coultham

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If you are in the British Isles and want to witness firsthand the majesty of the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in its natural environment, then for the best chances of a sighting you need to travel to the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

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Video | Everything You Need To Know About The Golden Eagle

Conservation Status

Despite its protected status the Golden Eagle continues to be persecuted by mankind, with multiple deaths attributed to illegal killing being recorded year after year.1 However, it is estimated that the U.K. Golden Eagle population remains stable with up to 500 breeding pairs in Scotland, and a very small population now in Ireland. Consequently, Golden Eagles are listed as Green in the U.K. and registered as the Least Concern from an international conservation viewpoint.

Conservation Status

DID YOU KNOW? The first officially recorded sighting of a Golden Eagle in the U.K. dates back to the Medieval Period, and the species was once widespread across the upland areas of the British Isles!


Golden Eagles will hunt mammals such as hares and rabbits, birds including grouse, and pheasant, and mountain birds such as the ptarmigan. They will eat carrion when they find it and have also been reported to eat reptiles such as snakes.


Golden Eagles can be found in the Scottish Highlands and on most Hebridean islands, as well as a small population in the Scottish Lowlands as well as Northern Ireland.

Note that this map is a rough illustration of animal distribution across the U.K.,2 whereby light green indicates established populations.


Golden Eagles are the second largest bird of prey in the U.K., the White-tailed Eagle being slightly larger. They glide on air currents with their wings held straight in a shallow ‘V’ pattern, often only appearing to use their wings when they need to increase altitude again. They are most associated with upland areas but will visit lowland areas when they are not under threat of persecution.

Golden Eagles pair for life, and will often nest in places that have been used for generations of eagles. These are typically in remote inaccessible areas to avoid disturbance. They often have several distributed nest sites (called eyries) which they will use to roost at night.

Golden Eagle:

Lars Edenius, xeno-canto.org

Both the male and female support each other to build and maintain their nests which are made from twigs, heather, and grasses. Because they re-use previous nest sites, the eyries will get larger and larger each year. They have one brood each year, which may consist of up to two eggs, albeit it is rare for more than one to fledge. Both parents look after the eggs and feed the chicks, which hatch after approximately 45 days and fledge after 3 months.


Their feathers are a combination of Cream, Brown, Black & White. Mature birds tend to be much darker than their juvenile counterparts.

Birds reach a height of up to 88cm with a wingspan of up to 220cm.3 They weigh up to 6.7kg, noting that the females are generally larger than the males. The typical life-span is 23 years with breeding maturity after 4 years.


Golden Eagles have no natural predators, although eggs and chicks can be susceptible to predation by mammals.


Look out for them in any of the Highland areas of Scotland.

You are most likely to see them in flight, and care is needed to correctly identify them. First of all, many people mistake the Common Buzzard for an Eagle. The give-away is the sheer size of an Eagle compared to a Buzzard as they are at least twice the size. The second indicator is the wing-tip shape of an Eagle which is quite square with visible feather tips (fingers) compared to the more streamlined shape of a buzzard.

The main differentiator between the White-tailed Eagle and the Golden Eagle in flight is the tail feather shape. Golden Eagles have a rounded tail feather configuration whereas the White-tailed Eagle is distinctly wedge-shaped. Unfortunately, you cannot use feather color as a guaranteed diagnostic, as juvenile Golden Eagles often sport a white tail base as well as white feathers on the undersides of their wings.


  1. Scottish National Heritage report by Dr. Phil Whitfield Ph.D. and Dr. Alan Fielding PhD
  2. Population data based on BTO records
  3. Featherbase

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