A Golden eagle love story

Living the Wild Life

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Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

While driving down the Old Butte Highway between Sage Junction and Hamer looking for eagles, I got more than I had bargained for. After photographing four individual Golden eagles I saw two on the same power pole cross piece with the pole between them.

OK, you un-romantics can stop reading now – yes, this is a love story as this is the time that all species of birds are looking for mates. It will soon be Valentine’s Day!!

They were more interested in each other and I was able to get rather close. As I started taking pictures, the female on the right side jumped to the other side and keeping her head in a bowed position, kept whispering sweet nothings to the male.

He appeared to try to ignore her as it is the middle of January, but she needed a little tender loving attention. When she tried “footing” him, their act of holding hands, she knocked him off balance. I then noticed he only had one foot and I could see the left leg was only a stub and had to keep the right leg centered for balance.

She continued to keep her head bowed and kept vocalizing her desire for intimate reaction from him. Eventually she tried snuggling with him and when she attempted a “beak” kiss knocked him off his perch and he flew off with her in tow.

They landed on a rocky ridge about a quarter of a mile away and I watched them through my binoculars as they both became engaged in their “getting to know you” behavior.

Golden eagles exhibit similar courtship and mating behaviors as the Bald eagles. Their courtship is remarkably tender and enduring for the lifetime in a violent world for them. For the first time in my life, I witnessed this relationship building on the ground last week. I have seen them in the swooping flights, diving in unison each showing their abilities in the air, but never on terra firma.

Successful nesting is important for eagle couples and injured or infertile pairs along with death or abandonment can cause pairs to “divorce” and seek new partners. With the missing foot of the male I observed, I wondered if this was an established pair or a new beginning as the female was the aggressor with the male appearing very timid.

Golden eagles build a strong bond and commitment to each other by mating 10 months of the year, usually only inactive during nesting time. The “footing,” “beak-kissing” along with back rubbing and snuggling are usually always initiated by the female.

In the spring when the female’s pituitary gland is switched on by increased daylight length will create a fertile period for two to three weeks. This allows her to lay from two to five eggs of which one to three will hatch.

Differences between Golden and Bald eagles are that Goldens prefer nesting on cliffs and rocks rather than in trees. Also the Golden is hunter and killer; preferring to harvest their own food while the Balds are scavengers, battling with ravens and other cold cut lunchers.

I continued to Camas National Wildlife Refuge to watch for eagles to fly into the cottonwoods to roost for the night. Only 11 Bald eagle showed up for the warm evening. With the light winter we have been having this winter, only 10 to 30 have been coming to roost, with the most showing up on the coldest night.

I would love to be able to observe this pair of Golden eagles and find where they are nesting to see what happens to them. Multiple trips will be made to the area to try to find them again.