National Geographic : 1940 May
IN QUEST OF THE GOLDEN EAGLE Over Lonely Mountain and Prairie Soars This Rare and Lordly Bird, But Three Youths from the East (atch Up With Him at Last BY JOHN AND FRANK CRAIGIEAD With Illustrationsfrom Photographs by the Authors WHAT bird lover and nature pho tographer has not dreamed of find ing the nest of some rare, unusual bird and observing its home life? Our dreams were of golden eagles. Bald eagles and most of the species of hawks we counted among our intimate friends, thanks to years of studying birds of prey and training them for falconry.* But with the golden eagle we had not even a bowing acquaintance. Wild and rare, living in lonely places, this lordly bird can stir the imagination of any man. Although the bald eagle is the national bird of the United States, most persons envisage the fierce golden eagle when they think of the country's emblem.t The two eagles are about equal in size, but the golden feeds on large swift prey that taxes its strength and courage, whereas "Baldy" is chiefly a fish eater. To us the golden eagle was even more than a symbol; it was one of the largest of our birds, with a 7-foot wingspread and talons as big as a man's hand. Its huge stick nests often contained whole truckloads of material. There were accounts of its at tacking lambs and fawns; even stubborn if unsupported tales of its kidnapping little children. We wanted to see this king of birds and find out how much of him was myth and how much was truly eagle. TO THE GOLDEN EAGLE COUNTRY Scraping together the necessary funds, we arranged to get some wild life photographs for the United States Forest Service and the Biological Survey, and headed west with our friend Morgan in an automobile loaded with camping equipment and cameras. We had only one real clue. An ornitholo gist in our home city of Washington, D. C., had told us there were golden eagles in Wyoming's Goshen Hole country. Ac cordingly, we spent several days searching Goshen County, but we soon discovered that even a county was a mighty big area. We had about decided to move farther west when an old native of Goshen informed us he knew where "a big brown eagle" nested. We were doubtful and plied him with questions. No, he said, it didn't have a white head. Yes, it nested on a steep cliff overlooking the river. No, it wasn't a hawk, it was a big bird. Yes, he had watched it feed its young every morning and evening while he had been working on the road. Yes, it could fly fast. We seemed to be on the right trail! "Is it a golden eagle?" we asked point blank. "Well," he said, a little peeved, "I don't know the names of nothin'; I just know 'em when I see 'em. I call it a brown eagle because it's brown." WHEN AN "EAGLE" IS NOT AN EAGLE After half an hour we had weeded out precise directions for reaching the golden eagle cliff. The site appeared ideal for an eyrie. But a long and careful search finally proved that our "golden eagles" were noth ing but turkey buzzards! All three of us were greatly discouraged; in this area golden eagles are hatched early in the spring and we knew that the young birds would soon be leaving their nest. Our only clue was gone. To find a golden eagle now would be very much a matter of luck. We headed for southeastern Wyoming where we could photograph some hawks and just possibly find an eagle. At Laramie our hopes were revived. A professor at the University of Wyoming told us where a golden eagle used to nest. We were in such a hurry to get to this spot that when we saw a big nest in a fir tree high on a mountainside we passed it by * See "Adventures with Birds of Prey," by Frank and John Craighead, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, July, 1937. t See "The Eagle, King of Birds, and His Kin," by Alexander Wetmore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, July. 1933.