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The Relationship Game: Do Eagles Mate For Life?

Bald eagle

Eagles are among the most majestic birds in North America. Huge, powerful, and fearless, these incredible raptors always make a big impression!

In The USA and Canada, we have two species of resident eagles; the Bald Eagle and the Golden Eagle. Both are similar in size and live in many parts of North America. It’s not uncommon to see an eagle on its own but these birds also frequently occur as pairs.

If you see two eagles perched or flying near each other, take a closer look. If one is a bit smaller than the other, you are looking at a male eagle with its mate. They might have just become a pair or have been together for a while.

Either way, those eagles will probably share life for several years; both Golden and Bald Eagles mate for life.


The Bonds Between Eagles

Eagles form strong bonds with each other. Although their relationships aren’t as tight and co-dependent as pairs of parrots and macaws, they stick together for a long time. As long a pair of eagles can raise young, they stay together for life.

Related: How similar are Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles?

In general, the only time eagles “break up” is when one of the birds dies, or when they fail with their nesting attempts. If their eggs don’t hatch, or nestlings die after a few tries, one or maybe both birds leave to find a new mate.

Eagles usually do mate for life

However, in most cases, after choosing a mate, eagles successfully fledge their eaglets and stay together. Although it’s impossible to know, raising young together might also strengthen the bond between mated pairs of eagles.

Bald Eagles also strengthen or renew their bond by carrying out courtship rituals before every nesting season. They fly together, toss sticks or objects to each other, and add on to their already huge nest.

If you see Bald Eagles behaving like this, keep watching! With luck, you’ll see them lock talons and spin around together in the air as they fall towards the ground.

Golden Eagles do some similar displays but they don’t lock talons, and only display when they find a new mate.


How Do Eagles Find Their Mates?

Eagles find their mates by looking for them in good potential eagle territory. If the territory is already occupied, the resident male will probably chase the new eagle away. However, on rare occasions, a new eagle might decide to fight and take over the territory. If he manages to do that, the bird will try to win the female eagle over by displaying to her.

Eagles can even fight for territory and mates

For the most part, though, eagles find their mates by wandering around in search of unmated birds. These potential mates are other young eagles or birds that have recently lost their mates.

Related: Types of eagles (around the world)

Birds that have lost mates probably also have good territory and may be eager to find a new mate as soon as possible.

When a potential mate shows interest, male eagles often fly into the air with a rock or stick, drop it, and then catch it in flight. They can also swoop around and do other acrobatics, essentially showing off their flight skills!

The female eventually joins the male and does similar things, like dropping and catching sticks, bits of earth, or other objects. They also perch near each other and make loud vocalizations, and chase each other in fast flight.


The Father’s Role

The roles that father birds play for their young vary by species. In the case of eagles, fathers are very much present and help raise their babies until they become independent.

Baby eagles

Male Golden and Bald Eagles both help with nest construction. Along with their mates, they bring sticks and other nesting materials to build a new nest or refurbish an old one. While Bald Eagles tend to reuse and add on to their previous nest, Golden Eagles often build a new one.

Females of both species do most of the incubation, but male eagles help a little bit too. After the eggs hatch, the mother eagle stays at the nest to brood and take care of the defenseless eaglets while their father goes hunting.

For those first couple weeks, he’s responsible for bringing food to his mate and the baby birds. He usually leaves the prey at the nest and then flies off to hunt again while the mother eagle feeds her babies. He also protects the nest and drives potential predators away.

After two weeks, both adults hunt and feed their eaglets. Father eagles continue to hunt for their young and protect them, even for a couple months after the babies leave the nest.


Courtship And Other Fun Facts

  • Eagles perform acrobatics during their courtship display to show that they are healthy and capable of providing food for and defending their nestlings.
  • One of the highest breeding densities for Golden Eagles is east of San Francisco, California, near the town of Livermore. In this area, there is one pair for every 12 miles.
  • Golden Eagles often nest on cliffs while Bald Eagles prefer platforms and huge trees around wetlands.
  • Pairs of Golden Eagles can hunt together to catch cranes and other large prey animals.
  • Eagles are powerful birds but still need to protect their babies from attacks by ravens, large owls, Black Bears, and other mammals.
  • After leaving the nest, young eagles can wander hundreds of miles but often end up returning to the same general area to find a mate and build their own nest.
  • Bald Eagles don’t become mature enough to breed until they are four or five years old.
  • Like other birds of prey, male eagles are smaller than their female counterparts. This size difference might help them catch a wider variety of prey.


Frequently Asked Questions

What do eagles do when their mate dies?

When their mate dies, eagles look for another mate.

Do eagles mourn the loss of their mate?

It’s impossible to know if eagles mourn or not, However, since they are fairly intelligent birds that form long-term pair bonds, they might experience some mourning or sadness at the loss of a mate.

How to tell a female eagle from a male?

To tell a female eagle from a male, when the birds are together, look at the size of the bird. Female eagles are always bigger than male eagles.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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