This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society, Audubon Rockies and Kelle Bruno’s Pagosa Peak Open School second-graders, is the golden eagle.
Known as “King of the Birds,” the golden eagle is well-respected for its ability to hunt a wide range of prey, including animals as large as young deer and bighorn sheep. Primary prey include mice, rabbits and snakes. These birds are also rather opportunistic and know to scavenge heavily.
With a wingspan known to exceed 7 feet, this species has a remarkable capacity for soaring. Despite their size, they have been clocked at speeds nearing 200 mph when pursuing prey. Their eye structure, complete with two retinas and a complex array of cones and rods, allows them to see a mouse’s whiskers twitch at nearly 2 miles away.
Golden eagles live in open and semi-open rangeland across the northern hemisphere. They oftentimes nest in unseen places, such as tall trees, cliffs and steep escarpments. Nesting sites, known as aeries, are large (5-6 feet wide), cup-shaped structures, built of large branches and lined with grasses and leaves. Adults attempt one clutch per year, as young take up to two months to fledge from the nest.
Comprising 59 different species across the world and in all continents aside from Antarctica, eagles are a diverse group of birds. We only have two species in North America.
How do you differentiate golden eagles from bald eagles? First, golden eagles have a characteristic golden “casting” on their neck and head feathers. When viewed from underneath, the white patches on a young golden eagle’s wings and base of tail tend to look much tidier and consolidated than when compared to a juvenile bald eagle, which appears “messy” until 3 to 4 years of age. Second, golden eagles have feathering all the way down the leg and have a smaller bill than that of the “baldy.” Lastly, these two eagles tend to be specialists of different habitat types: bald eagles tend towards access to water; golden eagles prefer open rangeland.
For information on local bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.