Sunday, March 27, 2016

Winged Flight

by Linda Farmer Harris

Yesterday I watched an eagle swoop down in our horse pasture, pick up a prairie dog, and carry it off. I was thrilled to see one less herbivorous burrowing rodent making holes in the pastures and preventing me from growing domestic grapevines.

Then Jerry asked if it was a Bald Eagle or a Golden Eagle. Both hunt on our meadow and along the valley. Hmmm.

Bald Eagle — Courtesy of Alice Leurck, 2013
Golden Eagle — Courtesy of Hope Rutledge
Our exterminator was a Golden Eagle. That made me wonder about the differences between the two eagles. I was surprised to discover that they are not closely related. 

Our national bird, the American Bald Eagle is in the family of sea or fishing eagles. The "bald" really does refer to the bald eagle's head. Their scientific name is Haliaeetus leucocephalus, that signifies a sea (halo) eagle (aeetos) with a white (leukos) head. The word "bald" at one time meant "white" not hairless. As of 2007, the American bald eagle is off the Department of Interior's Federal List of Endangered and Threatened. They are still protected under the 2007 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

The Golden Eagle is claimed by the hawk family that includes the Red-tailed Hawk, kites, and old-world vultures. Their well-feathered legs and feet are adapted for catching prey on the ground.

The Golden Eagle's scientific name is Aquila chrysaetos. If I described one of my story characters as having an "aquiline" nose (also called a Roman nose), I would mean the person's nose reminded me of an eagle's beak. Can you imagine a villain with hard, penetrating aquiline eyes?
Golden Eagle photo courtesy of Murdo Macleod
Golden Eagles can live in very arid habitats with no water for miles, while Bald Eagles are usually found near water. We have the Yellow Jacket Creek running through our property and the Piedra River less than three miles east, plus Lake Capote a few miles farther. Both have plenty of territory in which to thrive.

Seeing the eagle reminded me of the 1851 poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "The Eagle." (

     He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
     Close to the sun in lonely lands,
     Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

     The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; 
     He watches from his mountain walls,
     And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Golden Eagles usually nest on cliffs, or sometimes in large trees. We are ringed by the San Juan Mountains and the new Chimney Rock Monument overlooks our valley. Lots of Ponderosa Pines, Douglas Fir, Colorado Spruce, subalpine fir, and cliffs to choose from.

Today we saw a Peregrine Falcon circling overhead across the two pastures. He (gender assumption) flew over the creek and up to the high meadow.

They also nest in rock outcrops and on high ledges of Chimney Rock. Most eyries (nest sites) are within a mile of water.
Peregrine Falcon - Courtesy of Audubon Field Guide
Are you ever too old to take up falconry? That is one of the things on my bucket list - explore falconry. The peregrine is a favorite hunting bird among falconers because of its power, speed, and inherent docility make it the easiest of all hunting bird to train.

You can explore the Colorado Chimney Rock National Monument from May 15th to September 30th.

Harris P—R Ranch looking east to Chimney Rock, Colorado
 Do you have eagles, hawks, or falcons in your area? Have you ever thought about becoming a falconer?


Linda Farmer Harris

Turning Tidbits of History into Unforgettable Stories

Lin and her husband, Jerry, live on a hay and cattle ranch in Chimney Rock, Colorado. She writes historical fiction for adults and children. Her novella The Lye Water Bride is included in the California Gold Rush Romance Collection (Barbour Publishing, August 1, 2016).


  1. Good morning, Lin. Happy Easter!
    Thank you for posting this interesting piece. I did not know the difference between the eagles except their coloring. I have seen an eagle over by the Vallecito spillway but it was a very long time ago. We heard one in Yellowstone. Both were near water. We have Cooper's hawks in our city neighborhood. They feast on birds. When they are hunting nearby no bird dares sing, whistle, or peep. Sometimes, but not often, I will hear a bird screech at being plucked from a branch nearby. I saw one the other day swooping into the neighbor's above-ground pool after a rain. There are wooded areas within a mile or two of our house so there are plenty of other sites to nest in. The adults get pretty large. There are also many eagles on the Gross Ile island not far from us, swans along the Detroit River as well. The water culture here is very different from West Texas, where we lived before. Again, thank you for your informative article. I have an eagle scene in my novel, hunting along the high line above the Animas River. Now I wonder which type of eagle it should be!

  2. Very interesting, thanks, Linda. And thanks for including that masterful poem by Tennyson. I haven't read that in ages!

  3. Thank you for your very interesting. We have a couple of bald eagles that visit our ranch occasionally. They are so majestic and graceful. I love watching them.

    1. Me, too, Melanie. Thanks for stopping. I'll think of you next time ours swoop around our upper meadow.

  4. Hey Linda,
    I have to tell you that when I read about the prairie dog, it made me sad! We live in SC and we had a pet prairie dog named Shadow. It was my son's pet but like most pets it was really mine. LOL. I loved that little guy. But he grew old and died and they banned them from being sold due to the the plague. Which I REALLY don't understand unless they actually carry the disease and we never hear about it in states that have wild population of the little critters. We have lots of hawks or they could be falcons or even kites as they all look so much alike out on our farm. I don't believe I've seen an eagle out there but we do have them here in SC.