Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE GOLDEN EAGLE.
AQUILA CHRYSAETOS, Linn.
The Golden Eagle, although a permanent resident in the United States, is of
rare occurrence, it being seldom that one sees more than a pair or two in the
course of a year, unless he be an inhabitant of the mountains, or of the large
plains spread out at their base. I have seen a few of them on the wing along
the shores of the Hudson, others on the upper parts of the Mississippi, some
among the Alleghanies, and a pair in the State of Maine. At Labrador we saw an
individual sailing at the height of a few yards, over the moss-covered surface
of the dreary rocks.
Although possessed of a powerful flight it has not the speed of many Hawks,
nor even of the White-headed Eagle. It cannot, like the latter, pursue and
seize on the wing the prey it longs for, but is obliged to glide down through
the air for a certain height to insure the success of its enterprise. The
keenness of its eye, however, makes up for this defect, and enables it to spy,
at a great distance, the objects on which it preys; and it seldom misses its
aim, as it falls with the swiftness of a meteor towards the spot on which they
are concealed. When at a great height in the air, its gyrations are uncommonly
beautiful, being slow and of wide circuit, and becoming the majesty of the king
of birds. It often continues them for hours at a time, with apparently the
The nest of this noble species is always placed on an inaccessible shelf of
some rugged precipice;--never, that I am aware of, on a tree. It is of great
size, flat, and consists merely of a few dead sticks and brambles, so bare at
times that the eggs might be said to be deposited on the naked rock. They are
generally two, sometimes three, having a length of 3 1/2 inches, and a diameter
at the broadest part of 2 1/2. The shell is thick and smooth, dull white,
brushed over, as it were, with undefined patches of brown, which are most
numerous at the larger end. The period at which they are deposited, is the end
of February or the beginning of March. I have never seen the young when newly
hatched, but know that they do not leave the nest until nearly able to provide
for themselves, when their parents drive them off from their home, and finally
from their hunting grounds. A pair of these birds bred on the rocky shores of
the Hudson for eight successive years, and in the same chasm of the rock.
Their notes are harsh and sharp, resembling at times the barking of a dog,
especially about the breeding season, when they become extremely noisy and
turbulent, flying more swiftly than at other times, alighting more frequently,
and evincing a fretfulness which is not so observable after their eggs are laid.
They are capable of remaining without food for several days at a time, and
eat voraciously whenever they find an opportunity. Young fawns, racoons, hares,
wild turkeys, and other large birds, are their usual food; and they devour
putrid flesh only when hard pressed by hunger, none alighting on carrion at any
other time. They are nice in cleaning the skin or plucking the feathers of
their prey, although they swallow their food in large pieces, often mixed with
hair and bones, which they afterwards disgorge. They are muscular, strong, and
hardy, capable of bearing extreme cold without injury, and of pursuing their
avocations in the most tempestuous weather. A full grown female weighs about
twelve pounds, the male about two pounds and a half less. This species seldom
removes far from its place of residence, and the attachment of two individuals
of different sexes appears to continue for years.
They do not obtain the full beauty of their plumage until the fourth year,
the Ring-tailed Eagle of authors being the young in the dress of the second and
third years. Our north-western Indians are fond of ornamenting their persons
and implements of war with the tail-feathers of this Eagle, which they kill
expressly for that purpose.
I conclude my account of this species with an anecdote relating to it given
in one of Dr. RUSH's lectures upon the effects of fear on man. During the
revolutionary war, a company of soldiers were stationed near the highlands of
the Hudson river. A Golden Eagle had placed her nest in a cleft of the rocks
half way between the summit and the river. A soldier was let down by his
companions suspended by a rope fastened around his body. When he reached the
nest, he suddenly found himself attacked by the Eagle; in self-defence he drew
the only weapon about him, his knife, and made repeated passes at the bird, when
accidentally he cut the rope almost off. It began unravelling; those above
hastily drew him up, and relieved him from his perilous situation at the moment
when he expected to be precipitated to the bottom. The Doctor stated that so
powerful was the effect of the fear the soldier had experienced whilst in
danger, that ere three days had elapsed his hair became quite grey.
FALCO FULVUS, Bonap. Syn., p. 25.
AQUILA CHRYSAETOS, GOLDEN EAGLE, Swains. & Rich. F. Bor. Amer.,
vol. ii. p. 12.
RING-TAILED EAGLE, Falco fulvus, Wils. Amer. Orn., vol. vii. p. 13.
ROYAL or GOLDEN EAGLE, Nutt. Man., vol. i. p. 62.
GOLDEN EAGLE, Falco Chrysaetos, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. ii. p. 464.
Wings long; the fourth quill longest, the third almost equal, the second
considerably shorter, the first short; the first, second, third, fourth, fifth,
and sixth abruptly cut out on the inner webs; the secondaries long, broad, and
rounded. Tail rather long, ample, rounded, of twelve broad, rounded, and
Bill light bluish-grey at the base, black at the tip; cere and basal
margins yellow. Eyebrows and margins of the eyelids light blue; iris chestnut.
Toes rich yellow; claws bluish-black. Fore part of the head, cheeks, throat,
and under parts deep brown. Hind head, and posterior and lateral parts of the
neck light brownish-yellow, the shafts and concealed parts of the feathers deep
brown. The back is deep brown, glossy, with purplish reflections; the
wing-coverts lighter. The primary quills brownish-black, the secondaries with
their coverts brown, and those next the body more or less mottled with
brownish-white, excepting at the ends; the edge of the wing at the flexure pale
yellowish-brown. Tail dark brown, lighter towards the base, and with a few
irregular whitish markings, like fragments of transverse bands; its coverts pale
brown, mottled with white at the base, and paler at the ends. The short
feathers of the legs and tarsi are light yellowish-brown, each with a dark
shaft; the outer elongated feathers dark brown; the lower tail-coverts light
yellowish-brown. The base of the feathers on the upper parts of the body is
white, on the lower pale dusky grey.
Length 3 feet 2 inches; extent of wings 7 feet; bill along the back 2 3/4,
edge of lower mandible 2 1/2; tarsus 4 1/2, middle toe and claw 4 1/2, hind claw
2 3/4. The extremities of the wings are 1 inch short of that of the tail.