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BULLETnature archive
Nature Archive Photo
© Tim Fitzharris

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Goldens Rule
Although bald eagles grace the tails side of the American quarter, golden eagles are impressive, too. Known as "soaring specialists," these master hunters rarely lose a fight, and they can hit speeds up to 200 mph when they're on the attack.

By Allison Oswalt

In the bird world, golden eagles are known as "soaring specialists," and with wingspans up to 7 feet and an average weight around 13 pounds, they're hard to miss as they circle overhead.

Like other large raptors, golden eagles use their extensive wingspans to catch rising masses of warm air, which allows them to glide for miles with minimal effort in search of prey. Rabbits, marmots and ground squirrels are among the golden eagles' favorite meals, but they've also been known to pick fights with animals twice their size. Perhaps that's why they're also known as "war birds" and the "king of birds." Nicknames notwithstanding, golden eagles are master hunters, and they use their speed to their advantage, flying at nearly 200 mph when on the attack.

When they're not hunting, golden eagles can be found in their nests, which are generally built in rocky crags or cliff faces. Occasionally, they'll build in trees or atop telephone poles. Females lay one to four eggs at a time, and both parents, which are monogamous by nature, incubate their offspring during the 40- to 50-day gestational period. On average, only one or two fledglings survive their first three months.

As they mature, golden eagles turn dark brown in color, with lighter golden-brown plumage on their heads, necks and wing tips. It's easy to distinguish golden eagles from immature bald eagles by looking at the birds' legs. The legs of golden eagles are covered with feathers, while bald eagles' legs are bare. These built-in leg warmers allow golden eagles to stay put in the winter, rather than migrating south like so many other birds. This even applies to golden eagles living as far north as Alaska.

Despite the birds' grandeur, they haven't always been embraced by humans. Historically, ranchers have viewed golden eagles with contempt, and decades ago, the birds were hunted because of their reputation of being bloodthirsty. In reality, golden eagles have had very little impact on the livelihood of livestock, and today, there are a variety of laws to protect them, thus allowing these soaring specialists to circle majestically overhead.

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