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Eagles are extraordinary birds, no matter which of the 60 species you see. The lineage of birds goes back about 144 million years. The first eagles began evolving around 36 million years ago. All are raptors or birds of prey. They are the avian’s version of the food web’s top predator, and it’s easy to see why. Few animals are as well-equipped to bring down prey as eagles.
Their razor-sharp talons and hooked beak make short work of a successful hunt. They also protect the eagle by dispatching their victims quickly to avoid injuries. These raptors are diurnal, although they are closely related to owls. You’re most likely to see these species soaring on the thermals on a warm day or perched in mature trees, surveying their territory.
There are only two eagles with well-established ranges in the United States, let alone California. There are a few accidental or vagrant species that occasionally fly up from Central or South America. However, most of them appear along the East Coast, down into Florida, since it’s a shorter jaunt than flying across the mountains or plains.
The Bald Eagle holds the unique honor of being the national symbol of our country. It is a formidable bird, weighing nearly 14 lbs with an 80-inch wingspan. They inhabit a variety of habitats, from forests to wetlands to shrublands. The primary requirement is that it must be near a water source. The Bald Eagle’s diet consists mainly of fish. However, it will take the occasional duck or muskrat.
Benjamin Franklin was famously against the choice of the Bald Eagle to represent the United States, saying, “He does not get his living honestly.” Perhaps he was referring to the raptor’s penchant for stealing food from other predators. It could speak of the bird’s taste for carrion. Nevertheless, the Bald Eagle is a survivor, with its numbers increasing during the last 40 years.
Tough as nails is the best way to describe the Golden Eagle. How else can you describe a bird that can take on a bear or coyote to protect its catch? Interestingly, this raptor also holds a place of honor in several countries, including Germany and Austria. It is about the same size as the Bald Eagle, only stocky with a slightly larger wingspan.
While the Bald Eagle often tolerates people, the Golden Eagle is more elusive, given its habitat in the American West, where it is a year-round resident. This raptor hunts mammals, primarily hares, prairie dogs, and other small animals. It differs from the previous species in that the Golden Eagle has feathered feet. Its population is stable, too, as another species that has benefited from the 1972 DDT ban.
The Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle are textbook examples of conservation at work. While both species are still facing other threats, they continue to fascinate and delight us. It’s worth noting that the majority of both raptor’s global territory is in the United States, making them genuinely American birds. It adds to the many reasons people have admired these magnificent birds of prey.
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Featured Image: teddy58, Pxhere
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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