Our Bird Neighbors – Golden Eagle

(Aquila chrysaetos)

Called also: RING-TAILED EAGLE; MOUNTAIN EAGLE; WAR EAGLE

Length—Male 3o to 35 inches; female 5 inches longer.

Male and Female—Back of the head and nape pale yellow; lower two-thirds of tail white, leaving a broad, dark band across end; legs entirely feathered with white; rest of plumage dusky brown. Immature birds are similar, darker; base of tail has broken grayish bars, and feathers on legs and under tail coverts are buff. Perfect plumage not developed under three years. Birds “grow gray” with age.

Range—North America, south to Mexico; nesting within United States, Europe, and Northern Asia.

Season—Permanent resident.

” He clasps the crag with hooked hands; Close to the sun, in lonely lands,

Ringed with the azure world he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls: He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.”

—Tennyson.

Restricted chiefly to the mountainous parts of unsettled regions on three continents, this magnificent bird is best known on this one to the Indians, who write no bird books, however. It is their emblem for whatever is courageous, fierce, and successful in war. All birds of prey typify these qualities to the Indian mind, it is true, but the eagle stands at the lead; its feathers, fit head-dress for any chief, were chosen to inspire him with the bird’s prowess. The buzzards and eagles represent their old men—those sages who have little hair, or those whose locks are white—hence to these birds have the secrets and the wisdom of ages been confided, and a respect akin to worship is shown them. What the imperial eagle meant to the terrorized ancients we can little guess in these days of democratic ideals. From the bird’s majestic soaring, what more natural than to suppose it communicated directly with the gods on Mount Olympus, and was Jove’s favored messenger? Certain Asiatic tribes believe that arrows plumed with eagle quills certainly reach the heart of an enemy; but what connection there may or may not be between these beliefs and those of our redskins no ethnologist has said.

Larger than the European golden eagle, and in every way ” better,” our golden eagle ” is a clean, trim-looking, handsome bird,” says Captain Bendire, “keen sighted, rather shy and wary at all times, even in thinly settled parts of the country, swift of flight, strong and powerful of body, and more than a match for any animal of similar size. In the West, where food is still plenty, their bill of fare is quite varied. This, I am informed, includes, occasionally, young fawns of antelope and deer, but more frequently small mammals of different kinds, as the yellow-bellied marmot, prairie dogs, hares, wood rats, squirrels, and smaller rodents, water fowl, from wild geese to the smaller ducks and waders, grouse and sage fowl. On the extensive sheep ranches they are said to be occasionally quite destructive to young lambs.” Several seemingly well authenticated cases of the golden eagle carrying off very young children are recorded in this country and Europe, but our authorities sneer at them.

Strangely enough, a pair of eagles, instead of being fiercely aggressive, as one would suppose, when their nest is approached, are quite indifferent and will circle around at a great height and watch the intruder with unimpassioned calm, or else entirely disappear. Trees or rocky cliffs seem to be chosen for nesting sites indiscriminately, the abundance of food in any vicinity being their first consideration in the choice of a home. Each pair of eagles have their fixed range of five or six miles, or more, and become so attached to it only persistent persecution will drive them away. Some nests are quite five feet in diameter, and contain twigs, weeds, hay, cattle hair, and feathers enough to fill a wagon; others are no larger than a hen hawk’s; nearly all are flat on top, with just enough depression to bring the top of the egg on a level with the side. For a few days before the eggs are laid, a pair of eagles will perch, side by side, hours at a time, an attitude common to many birds of prey at this tender season. Two or three dull white, roughly granulated eggs, sometimes plain, more often blotched or speckled with brown, appear at an interval of two or three days, or even a week; after four weeks of constant incubating by both parents, the fluffy white brood appear; but, although they grow rapidly, it is fully two months before they leave the eyrie. Just as soon as they can fly and secure a living, the old birds cast them off. They are three years in perfecting their plumage, it is said, and they may live a century.