Two goldens recently have been working the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, including the south end of Rest Lake. In Washington, they’re a fairly common resident east of the mountains and occasionally can be seen in the rain shadow of the Olympics, including the San Juan Islands.
They don’t often make headlines and then it’s often an obituary. In 2009, an adult golden eagle was killed by a wind turbine blade near Goldendale, the first recorded death of an eagle related to a turbine.
On the bright side, a golden eagle that had survived a 2008 electrical shock with wing and leg injuries, been hit by a car and diagnosed with lead poisoning now has a new home – and a healthier future – at the Woodland Park Zoo.
After lengthy training, Ranger will become part of the zoo’s public programs.
An adult golden eagle is more low key in its sartorial tastes than the flashier bald eagle. Its dark brown body sports golden highlights on its head, the leading edge of the wings and its legs (juveniles have patches of white).
During the days of European falconry, those gold touches probably led to it being flown only by kings. Napoleon Bonaparte’s army carried the golden eagle emblem; Mexico made the golden eagle its national bird. Other names applied to the golden have been War Bird, Bird of Jupiter, Booted Eagle and Royal Eagle.
Golden eagles are a little larger than bald eagles although they weigh about the same and have smaller heads and bills. A good distinguishing field mark is the golden’s legs, covered with feathers down to the toes.
They can be found up to several thousand feet in elevation, usually residing in canyonlands, mountains and shrub-steppe regions east of the Cascades.
A monogamous golden pair will aggressively defend their territory of many square miles. Unlike bald eagles, which prefer trees for nests, golden eagles usually opt for a ledge high on a predator-inaccessible cliff, usually east of the Cascades. The platform nests of sticks and other materials are remodeled and reused for years, growing as large as 10 feet across and 4 feet deep.
The pair has years to work on the project. It’s estimated that they can live for 30 years in the wild. Last year, the oldest banded wild golden in Great Britain died at age 22. The oldest zoo-residing golden lived to be 46.
Partly because of their wingspans (61/2 to 71/2 feet long), golden eagles are the soaring stars of their genus (buteo), outpacing buzzards, hawks and the bald eagle. The more warm air under the wings, the higher the rise and the longer the glide.
A golden conserves energy by typically hunting from a perch with its far-sharper-than-human eyes in a head that can rotate 210 degrees. Once the prey has been targeted, the golden eagle lifts high into the sky, dives at incredible speeds and nails the meal with sharp talons.
Estimates of that air-to-earth speed range from 150 to 200 mph. The next meal probably hears it coming. By then it’s too late.
The golden eagle’s diet includes rabbits, lizards, mink, marmots, grouse and waterfowl. It’s more predatory than the bald eagle but does scavenge, especially in the winter.
But even powerful birds need protection. The Northwest population is declining, and in Washington, it’s a candidate for the state endangered species status.
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.