By Ranger Danny
When people think about eagles, the Bald Eagle often comes first to mind. That bird, a national symbol, sparks strong associations. Bald Eagles can occasionally be seen locally and, when spotted, are indeed a special bird to witness. But when I think about eagles, I think of the kind that is more common in this area–the golden eagle.
Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) are one of the northern hemisphere's more prominent and more well-known birds of prey. Like all eagles, they belong to the Accipitridae family. Their coloration appears dark brown overall, with golden-brown feathers on the back of the head and neck. These large birds have a wingspan of 5 to 7 feet and weigh 5 to 11 pounds, depending on gender and age. These characteristics, combined with powerful talons and beaks, make these birds formidable hunters and fearsome predators among critters in the grasslands.
Sycamore Grove Park is full of types of prey that golden eagles catch using their strength, surprising agility, and aggressive speed. They mainly feast on larger rodents like ground squirrels and rabbits. The park's wide-open fields, interspersed with overhanging trees, make a perfect hunting ground for golden eagles. Being diurnal, they mostly hunt during the day. Despite eagles not always catching all their prey, they can impressively go several days without food and then make up for it by gorging when the hunting improves.
One of the most spectacular features of golden eagles is their flight. Their giant wingspan makes their flight perhaps the strongest of all the world's eagles. A lot of energy is required to move their long wings with finger-like tips. The golden eagle's flight is most difficult when it first starts to lift off the ground. It takes a few big wing flaps and then coasts, continuously repeating this pattern for takeoff. Golden eagles can fly at speeds up to 120 mph, and while swooping or diving, they can fly as fast as 150 to 200 mph. This makes them one of Earth's fastest animals, at least for short distances.
Golden eagles often mate for life, and they have amazing mating rituals. Males pick up sticks or rocks and drop them high in the sky. Before the debris hits the ground, the eagles swoop and catch them mid-air. Females perform a similar ritual using clods of dirt. Once they are paired up, the birds make a nest, often building it in a rock formation near a large open space to easily hunt on their own.
While visiting our open space areas, please keep your eyes open for these beautiful golden eagles as they fly and hunt. They are seen frequently in the hills of Sycamore Grove and Brushy Peak, so on your next visit, remember to bring your binoculars!