Golden eagles use their speed and sharp talons to snatch up rabbits, marmots, and ground squirrels. They also eat carrion, reptiles, birds, fish, and smaller fare such as large insects. They have even been known to attack full grown deer. Ranchers once killed many of these birds for fear that they would prey on their livestock, but studies showed that the animal's impact was minimal. Today, golden eagles are protected by law.
Golden eagles usually hunt during daylight hours, but were recorded hunting from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset during the breeding season in southwestern Idaho. The hunting success rate of golden eagles was calculated in Idaho, showing that, out of 115 hunting attempts, 20% were successful in procuring prey. A fully-grown golden eagle requires about 230 to 250 g (8.1 to 8.8 oz) of food per day but in the life of most eagles there are cycles of feast and famine, and eagles have been known to go without food for up to a week and then gorge on up to 900 g (2.0 lb) at one sitting.
Golden eagle pairs maintain territories that may be as large as 60 square miles (155 square kilometers). They are monogamous and may remain with their mate for several years or possibly for life. Golden eagles nest in high places including cliffs, trees, or human structures such as telephone poles. They build huge nests to which they may return for several breeding years. Females lay from one to four eggs, and both parents incubate them for 40 to 45 days. Typically, one or two young survive to fledge in about three months.
These majestic birds range from Mexico through much of western North America as far north as Alaska; they also appear in the east but are uncommon. Golden eagles are also found in Asia, northern Africa, and Europe. Some golden eagles migrate, but others do not—depending on the conditions of their geographic location. Alaskan and Canadian eagles typically fly south in the fall, for example, while birds that live in the western continental U.S. tend to remain in their ranges year-round.