Published on February 16, 2013 by Amy
The golden eagles are one of North America’s largest birds of prey. They have been eliminated from much of their native range in the eastern United States, with the largest populations now being found in the western states.
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The golden eagle is a large bird, 30 to 41 inches in length, with a Wingspan as much as 78 inches. Adult birds are dark brown with pale golden feathers on the nape of the neck. Immature birds lack the golden neck feathers and have white patches near the base of the tail and on the underside of the wings, near the tips. The legs and feet are covered with feathers almost to the toes. Like other birds of prey, the golden eagle possesses a sharp, hooked beak for tearing flesh and strong, sharp talons for capturing and holding its prey. From a distance, large hawks and vultures are often mistaken for the golden eagle or its close relative the bald eagle
In eastern North America, golden eagles are primarily birds of mountainous habitats, especially deciduous forests with open grassy areas. In the west, their habitats are more varied.
Golden eagles feed mostly on small mammals such as rabbits and rodents but occasionally may take larger prey. Eagles, with their extremely sharp vision, can spot their prey from long distances. It is believed that an eagle can probably see a rabbit from as far away as two miles!
Eagles are well known for their habit of building large nests measuring several feet across. These nests are used year after year with new material being added each season. Nests are usually built in a tall tree or sometimes on a rocky ledge and consist mostly of large and small sticks. Golden eagles lay 2 to 3 eggs, which are unmarked or slightly speckled with brown. Occasionally, the male may help the female incubate the eggs, which may take as long as 50 days. At hatching, a baby golden eagle weighs only about 3 ounces. The young grow rapidly and after 45 days, the same chick may weigh 40 times as much. Both of the parents help to feed the young, which may stay in the nest up to 75 days before they are able to fly.
Like many other predators, the golden eagle has been persecuted by man to the point that their numbers have declined dramatically. In the past, eagles were often blamed for attacks on domesticated animals such as young sheep and chickens. Although eagles might occasionally attack one of these animals, the damage was greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, bounties were offered and many thousands of both golden and bald eagles were shot and killed. Like many other animals, eagles have also suffered from loss of habitat, especially the large wilderness areas it takes to support them. “Hacking” or artificial raising of young golden eagles in a wild setting, has taken place in many places in the hope that those birds will someday return to breed in those areas.
The golden eagle is now fully protected by law, although illegal hunting and killing still occurs from time to time. Possession of live or dead eagles or their feathers, without special permits, is a federal offense, punishable by stiff fines and possible prison sentences. Native American Indians however, are allowed to possess eagle feathers for ceremonial uses.