While in the midst of a joyride through the foothills, have you ever caught yourself craning your neck, trying to prolong the view of a majestic bird of prey that your car is quickly passing by? Whether in graceful flight, or stoically perched on an old wooden telephone pole, our attention is oft en diverted from the road by the sight of these beautiful birds. Just know that you are not alone if you find yourself succumbing to this happenstance. Also know that what you may have spotted is a golden eagle. If what you happen to spy is a raptor displaying dark brown plumage that transitions into a golden color towards the back of the head and neck, complemented with some grey on the tail and inner-wing, then you have the privilege of witnessing a mature golden eagle. Another easy tell of a golden eagle is if the legs are feathered all the way to the toes – an uncommon characteristic in birds of prey of North America.
Golden eagles average about two and a half feet in length, have an average weight of 10 pounds, and yield an impressive wingspan that can reach up to seven feet. Even though a golden eagle’s size allows for taking down larger animals such as deer and domestic livestock, golden eagles tend to prey on smaller mammals including prairie dogs and rabbits. Golden eagles are not above grabbing an easy meal, and sometimes feed on dead animals. And unfortunately for other birds, golden eagles don’t always play nice, as they have been observed stealing food and robbing nests.
Catching a Glimpse
Your chances of seeing an untethered golden eagle are much greater if you happen to live in the western part of North America. Their preferred terrains include canyonlands and bluff’s, and they also favor a more open landscape, as opposed to continuous stretches of forest. The migration of these birds is contingent on their location. Eagles that live north of the Canadian border are much more likely to fly south during the fall than their counterparts that live in the western United States. Since golden eagles are exceptional hunters, it’s unnecessary for them to migrate substantial distances in search of food during the winter.
In following the Boulder County spirit of not being wasteful, golden eagles tend to reuse the same nest for several years. On the subject of nests, golden eagles typically commence with construction a few months before egg-laying. The nests they build are quite sizeable. A six-foot tall person lying down could be concealed by its two-foot high wall. The nests are preferably formed on cliff s, but occasionally will be found in trees if an adequate precipice is not available. The construction of these massive nests is undertaken by the mating pair, and the nest better be up to par to save future headaches, because a mating pair will oft en stay together for life.
A female golden eagle will lay one to three eggs a year, and only one or two of those young typically survive. Males bring food to the female while she incubates the eggs for an average of 43 days, and depending on how helpful the male is, he will also participate in keeping the eggs warm. Even though both parents may not share in the incubation process, both parents do contribute to the raising of their young. And if no accidents or tragedies befall them, the young golden eagles should live a full life of 15 to 20 years.
Golden eagles nest in good numbers in the foothills and montane life zones of Boulder County. Eight young fledged in 2014. It looks like we will be able to continue watching these majestic birds for quite a long time!