Golden Eagle make best of surroundings

The Golden Eagle, or Canadian eagle as it is often fondly referred to, is an endangered species in Ontario. But despite this, we still get them visiting the Georgian Bay area every so often.

In the more remote locations of Georgian Bay we may even be so lucky as to have a few nesting pairs, but for the most part this very large bird of prey inhabits the more sparsely populated regions of the far north.

The habitat most preferred by the Golden Eagle is actually quite diverse in comparison with the bald or American eagle. While the Golden Eagle can survive well in mountainous areas, foothills, plains and generally open country as long as there exists small game or the carrion of dead animals to feed off, the Bald Eagle, on the other hand, exists almost entirely on fish and therefore must pretty much inhabit areas where lakes and rivers can supply them year-round with this food source.

It's safe to say that the biggest difference between these two eagles, beside the visual difference in plumage, is their diet. The Bald Eagle maintains a very specific diet consisting of about 85 per cent fish, while the golden eagle is far more diversified, (an excellent opportunist) which helps to aid in its survival.

The southern breeding range of the Golden Eagle extends from about the northern tip of Lake Superior and runs parallel at this point right across the entire province. It breeds throughout the whole of the province north of Superior, including the entire James Bay and Hudson Bay coastline.

Since the Golden Eagle is migratory to an extent, (meaning that it does not fly all the way to tropical locations as, for instance, song birds do, it is considered a neo-tropical migrant. Occasional sightings are made throughout the eastern and central United States. A few golden eagles are even known to be permanently residing in the Appalachian Mountains of the northeastern U.S. but their exact number is not known.

In fact, for an endangered species, I was astonished to find that generally, very little documentation exists on their movements, population and breeding range.

But one thing for sure though, is that they're here! Over the last few years I have seen, and positively identified, four Bald Eagles and three Golden Eagles. One sighting was practically in my own back yard.

Recently I was informed of an individual observing what he was absolutely sure was a Bald Eagle up around the Parry Sound/Georgian Bay area. Additionally, claims have also been made that Golden and Bald Eagles have been making regular appearances in other areas of Central Ontario. This is very good to know.

However, to an untrained eye, the Turkey Vulture is sometimes mistakenly thought to be an eagle. To a degree this is understandable because the Turkey Vulture is a very large bird, in fact, almost as large as an eagle. In addition, both bird species glide high in the air on thermal updrafts, so certainly from a distance one might be tempted to identify a vulture as an eagle if the pink head of the vulture is not visible.

The secret to identifying whether you are looking at an eagle or not is in the shape and thickness of the wings.

As you look up and watch while the bird in question is gliding and soaring, take a look at the wings. If you are indeed viewing an eagle the wings will come straight out from the body like a couple of wide wooden planks. There will be no curve to the wing at all. Conversely, if it is a Turkey Vulture the wings will have a pronounced forward (toward the head) curve called the dihedral. These differences in wing shape can be seen from a long distance away.

To see an eagle is an exciting experience. I was lucky enough to have a Golden Eagle fly about four or five meters over my head one very cold winter day and the vision of it is still etched in my mind. The bird was simply huge. It had been sitting quietly in a big White Pine behind our cottage. That morning I set out for a walk and had not gone far when I heard the loud crack of a branch. I looked up to my right at the top of a granite ridge which was about four meters high, and out of nowhere this massive eagle flew directly over head. I stood there in stunned silence. The wing span on that bird was absolutely incredible. I'll never forget it.

So, keep your eyes to the skies, especially during the migratory flights during Spring and Fall., because you never know what you might catch a glimpse of.


© Copyright 2010 Bill Leeming - All Rights Reserved