Scientific name: Aquila chrysaetos

Characteristics: Large, dark brown eagles with 6-7 foot wingspans; both adults and juveniles have golden-brown feathers on the top and back of the head. The legs are feathered to the toes. Juveniles have whitish wing patches on the undersides and a white tail with a dark terminal band. Adult tails are dark or show faint barring.

Breeding: Builds a huge stick nest in a cliff face or large tree. Lays two to three eggs that take about 1 1/2 months to hatch. Young leave the nest around 66-75 days old.

Range: Found throughout the Western U.S., Canada and Alaska during the breeding season and also into the Midwest and Northeast during migration. Golden eagles have a worldwide distribution.

Habitat: Found in open country in the mountains, foothills and plains.

Food: Eats small mammals (especially hares and rabbits), larger birds, lizards and snakes, carrion and some larger mammals (often stillbirths). Hunts by soaring then diving after prey. May harass osprey or coyotes for their prey.

Comments: Often engages in an undulating, roller-coasterlike flight consisting of upward spirals and downward dives. Both adults incubate the eggs, although the male less than the female. Nests sometimes have fresh juniper branches or other aromatic leaves to deter insect pests. The golden-colored feathers on the head give this species its common and scientific names. A group of eagles is called a “convocation.”

Current viewing: Nests in cliffs along the Deschutes and Crooked rivers, Smith Rock State Park, Gray Butte and the Hampton area.

— Damian Fagan is a volunteer with the East Cascades Audubon Society and COCC Community Learning instructor. He can be reached at

Sources: Oregon Department of Wildlife Resources and The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds by John Terres