Friday, October 30, 2009

Gruesome Golden Eagles

I shot, photographically, of course, these Golden Eagles on October 9th, 2009 in Colorado. I was off Route 50 south of Hotchkiss headed toward The Black Canyon Of The Gunnison. David and I were following my son whom we were were going to watch climb the walls of the canyon. We had driven many miles on a nameless dirt road toward some place only the inner climber's circles would have known. The eagles were scavenging a Mule deer carcass. When we went by them the first time, zooming along the dirt road agitating choking clouds of red dust, there were only two. I leaped from the car, shielding my camera as best as I could from the dust, shooting quickly as we were following another car and had no idea where we were. It would have been a tedious complexity had we become leaderless out there! The eagles were spooked and took off before I was able to get off many shots. I wasn't sure what I got for images as I raced ahead to catch up to our little convoy of cars. When we dropped my son and his girlfriend off to climb, they ran into two friends who were there for the same purpose. Introductions were made and gear collected. The group had to hike in to the start point of their climb which was going to take an hour or so. We would have time to kill before we could see the climbers ascending the rock walls. In the mean time, I could not get those eagles off my mind. They were the first Golden eagles I had ever seen. I was every bit as excited about that as my son and his friends were to climb. As soon as we got rid of them, I told David we had to go back to the eagles. Hours had passed by then, but I told David "Maybe they came back! That was a big carcass for them to ignore......." I was already patting my pants pocket for the car keys. He knew to resist was futile. And sure enough, when we got back to the field, which was seven miles back, there they were, not two, but three! This time, the Magpies had joined them.
Golden eagles are common in the Western half of the United States, but rare in our Eastern parts. So, the sighting was a big deal to me. I would have been thrilled to see just one, and here were three! I'm quite sure that at least two of them are sub-adults because of the white ankle socks and scattered white feathers. Also, when they took off, I could see white bums. Goldens do not acquire their definitive golden plumage until they are at least four years old. These eagles vary in size, the females being bigger than the males. Only Bald eagles and California Condors are bigger. Though not endangered, the Golden eagle is protected by the Bald Eagle And Golden Eagle Protection Act of 1940 (see for the statute). So, think again if you were going to pull out some of those golden feathers to line your own nest! To mess with one is a felony which can result in a year in jail, $100,000 fine or both. These eagles are scavengers like other eagles. They frequent open grasslands like this site, partly because they like a good snack of Prairie Dog. They will hunt almost anything under the size of a Mule deer, though there have been reported attacks on adult deer. When we drove through this area, we saw easily 150 Mule deer. I did not realize it when I took the photos, but later on zooming in on the eagles, I could see in the distance a herd of Muleys in the background (see photo #2 beyond the irrigation wheels). When locked onto a prey target, they can fly at speeds of 150 miles per hour! The Golden eagle is hunted by Coyotes, Bobcats, and the usual big predators.                                                                                                                                                
Double click on this image for full screen and you can see the deer grazing in background.

The buffy-gold feathers of a mature Golden eagle are obvious on the nape of this handsome bird.

Gruesome! Double click to see the eye of the eagle on the left.


  1. I saw a couple of Golden Eagles fly above New Jersey headed in the Maine direction! Heard them bantering something about the moose are bigger than a mule...Get your camera ready!
    PS...You truly are a "driven" woman!

  2. Indeed, I am driven! Miss Daisy had nothing on me!

  3. Uh, I don't get this. Does it mean we are all happy?