Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

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About Golden Eagles

Taxonomy and Anatomy
Golden Eagle bearing a radio transmitter, so wherever it wanders Peter Nye can track its movements.
Did you know that Golden Eagles are not closely related to Bald Eagles? Bald Eagles belong to a group called "fishing eagles." Golden Eagles are more closely related to hawks called "buteos," a group which includes the Red-tailed Hawk.

But Golden Eagles look a lot like immature Bald Eagles, from their huge size and 80-inch wingspan to their dark plumage. Golden Eagles have feet adapted to catching their prey on the ground. Their legs are well-feathered, unlike the legs of Bald Eagles. (Why do you think Bald Eagles have no feathers on their legs?) Golden Eagles have a slightly smaller bill than Bald Eagles, more in the proportions of a large hawk's beak than the oversized beak of a fishing eagle. From the tip of their beak to the tip of their tail, a Golden Eagle is about 30 inches long and a Bald Eagle is about 31 inches. But a Golden Eagle very slightly outweighs the Bald, averaging about 10 pounds to the Bald Eagle's 9.5 pounds.

Try to make a list of ways that Golden Eagles are different from Bald Eagles, and ways that they are similar. How many of these differences might be due to their different diets?

The Golden Eagle's scientific name is Aquila chrysaetos, which literally means "Eagle golden-eagle." Did you know that if you say a person has "aquiline" features that means the person reminds you of an eagle? One writer wrote of a character's hard, penetrating aquiline eye. And a person with an aquiline nose has a long, somewhat curved nose like an eagle's beak.

Habitat and Distribution
Bald Eagles are usually found near water, but Golden Eagles can be found in very arid areas where there is no water for miles. Golden Eagles live in Europe, Asia, north Africa, and North America, whereas Bald Eagles are found only in North America. In western North America, Golden Eagles live in both the Great Plains and in the mountains. They're also found in eastern North America, but are nowhere as common as they are in the west, and seem mainly limited to deciduous mountains.

In England and Europe, where long ago shooting wiped out many species except in the most inaccessible areas, these magnificent eagles are associated with wild and forbidding mountains-the kind of habitat Alfred, Lord Tennyson may have been thinking of when he wrote his famous poem, "The Eagle," in 1851:

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked 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.
--by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Although no birds even approach the speed of sound, Golden Eagles can plunge toward their prey at very high speeds. In 1968, two scientists estimated the speed of a Golden Eagle in a dive at between 150 and 200 miles per hour, but this high speed has never been verified. One Golden Eagle in Scotland was clocked at 120 miles per hour while being chased by a Peregrine Falcon. Unlike Golden Eagles, Bald Eagles aren't particularly good at high speed flying. Why do you think this is?

The range and migration of Golden Eagles is not well understood. Dozens are counted in fall and spring flying along Lake Superior, and no one really understands where these birds are coming from, nor where they are going. This is why Peter Nye's opportunity to learn from a Golden Eagle with a radio transmitter is so exciting! Read about his Golden Eagle tracking project!

Golden Eagles usually nest on cliffs, though sometimes nest in large trees or on a prairie mound. They can lay 1-4 eggs, but like Bald Eagles, usually lay 2. It takes the babies of both species over a month to hatch, and about two months between hatching and first flight (65-70 days for Golden Eagles, and 78-82 days for Bald Eagles). Females usually fledge later than males--do you think this is because females are larger and it takes longer for them to finish growing?

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