There are two species of eagles found in America. The bald eagle and the golden eagle.
Shedding Light on the Golden Eagle – America’s Other Eagle
If you’re reading this, you are (hopefully!) aware that the bald eagle is both America’s national bird and its national symbol. As such, this bird of prey appears on many pieces of American iconography – including, perhaps most memorably, the American Great Seal.
But in America, the term “eagle” is often taken to refer to only the bald eagle. One example of this trend is the logos and art design of Philadelphia’s National Football League franchise. This franchise is called the “Philadelphia Eagles” – but it might as well be the “Philadelphia Bald Eagles”. From 1948 onwards, all of the team’s four primary logos have depicted a bald eagle.
The purpose of this article is to expand the connotation of the phrase “American eagle”, and shed some light on the other, often overlooked, species of eagle that resides in America. This species is the golden eagle – and in particular, the Aquila chrysaetos canadensis subspecies.
The golden eagle is overall a dark brown color, but gets its name from the lighter, golden brown feathers around its head and neck. When a golden eagle has not yet reached maturity, it carries a band of white feathers on its tail, as well as another small group of white feathers on its carpal joint – a bit of localized “baldness of the elbow”.
Most subspecies of the golden eagle are usually between 2.2 and 3.3 feet long. Their wingspan ranges from 5.0 feet to 8.0 feet, and their weight ranges from 5.5 pounds to 15.5 pounds. Some wild members of the canadensis subspecies, though, go beyond the usual measurements. The largest canadensis on record was 3.34 feet long and weighed 20 pounds.
Diet and Reproduction
Golden eagles are carnivorous predators at the “apex” of their environment. This means that a fully-grown adult golden eagle has no natural predators in its environment.
A golden eagle’s diet is comprised of two principal food groups. The dominant food group, which makes up over half of the eagle’s diet, is a selection of mammals. Eagles can feed on hares, rabbits, ground squirrels, prairie dogs and marmots. On rarer occasions, they will eat mice, martens, foxes, young deer and mountain goats. The non-dominant food group is other birds. Usually, a golden eagle goes after ptarmigans and grouse. But it can also hunt many other different species – for example, golden eagles have been recorded killing other raptors like gyrfalcons.
As far as reproduction goes, golden eagles are a species of bird that mates for life. Once a specific pair of golden eagles gets together, they will spend years constructing series of nests in and around their home territory, with each respective nest getting bigger as the years pass.
Sometime between January and May, the female member of the golden eagle pair lays two eggs. As the female isn’t going to lay two eggs at once, one egg will hatch before the other; the older of the two newborns usually attacks (and sometimes kills!) its younger sibling.
The two eaglets spend fifty days in their nest, with their mother providing food during this time. After those fifty days, it’s time for the eaglets to spread their wings, leave the nest and fly – literally. It doesn’t always go perfectly, and it’s usually only the older eaglet that makes it out of the nest.
The canadensis subspecies of golden eagle – that is, America’s golden eagle – has two principal territories. The first is in the western United States – to the left of the Rockies, approximately, with a good concentration of golden eagles in the western parts of this mountain range. Here, one can find golden eagles all year round. The second occupies the central and northeastern United States; in these states, one can only find golden eagles during the winter.
The species as a whole obviously has a much greater geographical range than simply the canadensis subspecies. Golden eagles can be found in North America (excepting all of Mexico aside from a few small regions), tiny portions of North Africa, and Europe and Asia. Aquila chrysaetos, the golden eagle’s “type species”, stretches from Eurasia to Siberia.
Cultural Significance in America
The golden eagle obviously lacks the cultural significance of its bald eagle brother – at least, as far as America is concerned. In a global sense, though, it is certainly a significant bird; it is the national bird of five nations (Albania, Germany, Austria, Mexico and Kazakhstan).
In America, the golden eagle’s principal significance is religious. Some Native American cultures believe that the golden eagle is sacred. As such, they hold the golden eagle’s feathers in special esteem. These peoples have various uses for the feathers – they place eagle feathers in their headdresses, and they use eagle feathers for special ceremonies.
There is one other species of eagle in the U.S.: the golden eagle. Its population is mostly concentrated in the western part of the country. It is rare in the eastern states, but its numbers are increasing there.
The golden eagle is the national symbol of Mexico and appears on the country’s flag.
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