A golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) was sitting on a power pole about a mile from our house Modoc County CA). Leonard and I were delighted to see it, since golden eagles, unlike the much more common bald eagles, are fairly rare. When this eagle flew we were able to identify it as an immature bird because of clearly defined white patches at the base of its tail and in its wings.
Primarily found in the western states, western Canada and Alaska, golden eagles are rare in the eastern United States. They prefer open and semi-open country, avoiding developed areas and large stretches of forest and are usually found singly or in pairs. Their nests are placed on cliffs or steep escarpments.
Overall coloration is dark brown with a golden sheen on the back of the head and neck. The legs are feathered to the toes. The bill has a dark tip and yellow cere (bare patch of skin around the upper mandible of a raptor). I think this specimen might be a two-year old because there appears to be a tawny band across the upper wing, characteristic of a second year bird.
Golden eagles, one of the largest North American birds, soar and capture their prey on the ground or hunt from a perch. Small mammals, particularly jackrabbits, cottontails, ground squirrels and prairie dogs, are their main food. Yet they will kill larger animals. Golden eagles also eat carrion, catch fish, rob nests and steal food from other birds and animals. Yet they will attack coyotes, bears or other animals that attempt to steal their catch. Once when Leonard and I were walking in our wildlife area a golden eagle flew up directly in front of us. How exciting! We looked and sure enough, the eagle had been eating a jackrabbit on the ground. Thankfully it did not decide to defend that meal. We moved off so that the eagle could return to finish eating.
Beautiful birds – I wish we saw them more often.