National Geographic : 1933 Jul
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaitos canadensis) The golden eagle, one of the most pow erful of American birds of prey and a keen and courageous huntsman, is principally an inhabitant of wild and unfrequented areas. From its great expanse of wing it is read ily identified. The bald eagle in immature dress is the only bird with which it might be confused, but as these two ordinarily range in different types of country, there is little opportunity to mistake them. The golden eagle has feathers extend ing clear to the toes, but in the bald eagle the lower part of the leg is covered with hard scales. This difference serves to dis tinguish the two in any plumage. Where prairie dogs are present in large numbers, these are favored food; a pair of eagles will destroy several hundred in the course of a season. At times they turn to sharp-tailed grouse when these are abundant, proving a scourge to the flocks. Jack rabbits, cottontails, marmots, and ground squirrels are killed in large num bers. In winter, when other food is scarce, they may come to dead carcasses, being sometimes hard put in severe weather when the meat is frozen, even with the great strength that they possess in bill and feet. They also attack lambs and fawns on occasion, and E. S. Cameron records that three golden eagles working together pulled down and killed a pronghorn antelope dur ing severe winter weather when other food was scarce. They will kill and eat coyotes caught in traps, and will also steal the bait when wolf traps are baited with meat. Snakes and wild ducks, and an occasional goose, also may figure in their diet. Birds and jack rabbits usually are partly plucked before being eaten, but most small mammals are swallowed-skin, hair, and all. These eagles kill many rattlesnakes, being said to feint at them until they uncoil, when the reptiles may be seized without danger. The lifting powers of this bird have been exaggerated, since it has been claimed that the golden eagle was capable of carrying prey weighing 15 or 20 pounds. Reports from reliable observers, however, indicate a weight of eight pounds as about the maximum which they can carry. When larger prey is killed, it is necessary to eat it on the ground. In the case of geese when they fall in water, the eagle is said to tow them to land. Frequent reports that these birds have attempted to carry off children are, so far as the experience of naturalists goes, without basis. However, it is interesting to note that these stories are prevalent through the extensive range occupied by golden eagles in both Old and New Worlds. During most of the year golden eagles are undemonstrative, but in the nesting season they call in shrill, high-pitched tones, and the male often tumbles in the air somewhat like the male marsh hawk. This is accomplished from a high eleva tion by suddenly closing the wings and dropping headfirst toward the earth, checking the fall just before reaching the ground; then rising again to repeat the performance. The nest is placed on the ledge of a cliff or is built in a tree. Often it is a large structure, as the birds may use the same site year after year and add to the nest each season. It is built of sticks and limbs, usually with a lining of some softer mate rial, and often is decorated with twigs of green pine. Bendire describes one, from notes made by Denis Gale in Colorado, which was 7 feet high by 6 feet wide, and was said to contain at least two cartloads of material. Two, or rarely three, eggs are laid, these varying from dull white to pale cream color, with blotches and spots of brown, pearl gray, and lavender. Where there are two eggs in the set, one is usually a little larger than the other. Some believe that the two young constitute a pair, though I know of no certain proof that this holds true. A TRUE AVIAN ARISTOCRAT Either from its size or demeanor, the golden eagle gives an impression of intelli gence distinctly above that of other birds of prey. As one of our finest forms of wild life, it is to be hoped that the huge bird may hold a place in our fauna for many years. The golden eagle breeds from northern Alaska and Mackenzie to northern Baja California and central Mexico, and in winter is found south to northern Florida and southern Texas. It formerly nested east of the Mississippi River, and possibly may still do so in North Carolina and Ten nessee. Closely allied forms occur in the Eastern Hemisphere.