Denali National Park & Preserve

Denali National Park & Preserve

Golden Eagle

Denali National Park and Preserve is home to an estimated 125 pairs of one of the world's largest avian predators: the majestic golden eagle. Adult golden eagles have plumage that's predominately dark brown. The tips of the tail feathers are very dark and form a band at the end of the tail. The hackles (feathers on the back of the neck and head) range in color from deep gold to pale blonde and are the reason these are called golden eagles.

Denali National Park and Preserve is home to an estimated 125 pairs of one of the world's largest avian predators: the majestic golden eagle. Adult golden eagles have plumage that's predominately dark brown. The tips of the tail feathers are very dark and form a band at the end of the tail. The hackles (feathers on the back of the neck and head) range in color from deep gold to pale blonde and are the reason these are called golden eagles. 

In the park, golden eagles prey primarily on ptarmigan, snowshoe hare, arctic ground squirrel, hoary marmot and carrion. Additional prey includes pine martin, porcupine, Dall sheep lambs, caribou calves, red fox, beaver, muskrat, smaller mammals (such as voles) and a variety of other birds. Golden eagles rarely eat fish. These majestic birds usually build their nests on cliffs or rock outcroppings, although a few nests are in trees just north of the park. The nests can be as large as five feet square or as small as 1.5 feet wide; they typically consist of sticks lined with grasses, lichen and feathers. It is interesting to note that most eagle nests are decades——and sometimes centuries——old, and are repaired and reused through the years. 

Eaglets take their first flight about 70 days after they hatch (usually the hatching phase takes place in early August). That means fledglings make their first southern migration in late September, leaving Denali to soar off independent of their parents and their siblings. Most juvenile golden eagles from the park complete their first migratory journey south in about six weeks. Golden eagles from Denali National Park and Preserve spend the winter as far east as Kansas and South Dakota, as far south as northern Mexico, and as far west as central Washington. 

Only 10 to 15 percent of the eaglets that leave nests in Denali will live to reach sexual maturity at about five years of age. Most will die of starvation, disease, predation and electrocution. Unfortunately, deaths occasionally occur because of illegal shooting. Golden eagles that survive their younger life phase can live 25 to 35 years in the wild. As with so many species, the future of the golden eagle and many other migratory birds depends on our ability to conserve important breeding, migratory and wintering habitats and the resources within these areas.