The Real Golden Treasure of Nevada
By: Aaron Meier, NDOW Publications Coordinator
While the country will be celebrating American Eagle Day June 20 the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) wants to also direct your attention to another impressive raptor.
“The golden eagle is kind of the forgotten stepchild to the bald eagle, but it is just as impressive and beautiful and they thrive in Nevada,” said Joe Barnes, Wildlife Diversity biologist for NDOW.
For more: Podcast – Golden Eagle Conservation in Nevada
Barnes describes the golden eagle as a fascinating beautiful raptor. “Some golden eagles can be as heavy as 13 pounds and have a wing span of seven feet,” said Barnes. “The name golden eagle can actually be a little misleading unless you get a close look at the bird. It’s actually a very dark brown. Where the gold comes out is on the back of the neck, from the head back to the shoulders. If you get good sunlight on it, it gets a very nice golden wash, but other than that it is a pretty dark bird.”
While the bird is the most widely distributed species of eagle, it is found in much greater numbers in the west. “Golden eagles need a lot of isolated undisturbed habitat both to breed and also to find good foraging and hunting areas. Most of the states in the East historically had golden eagles but those numbers have declined quite a bit in the past 100-200 years. With areas changing to agriculture and later into urban and suburban areas, you can only find them now in a couple of isolated locations in the Appalachians and some remote northern areas in the New England states.”
Golden Eagles in Nevada
In Nevada the bird can be found all across the state wherever the conditions meet the eagle’s needs. “They are pretty much anywhere across the state that has mountains with a nice cliff face to nest. Places near valley bottoms, meadows and open basins are particularly favorable. They will use that for hunting and then come back to the cliff face for rearing young,” said Barnes.
The golden eagle is a migratory bird with Nevada receiving large numbers of eagles coming in from the North in Alaska and Canada. Barnes explains that compared to many of the areas up north, Nevada has much milder winters. “Some of the eagles in Nevada don’t even migrate at all,” he said. “With some of the areas towards Winnemucca and areas that have higher mountain ranges, the birds will migrate in the winter months, but it’s more common throughout most of Nevada where the winter is less harsh that the birds will stay year round.”
While some might picture an eagle swooping out of the air and grabbing a mouse out of a field, Barnes believes that offering a mouse to an eagle is like offering a single raisin to a hungry person. “You might be able to convince an eagle to eat a mouse, but that’s going to be a pretty tiny meal. For the most part they focus on medium sized mammals like jackrabbits, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. I’ve found foxes in a nest. Potentially even small deer like a fawn.”
Top Avian Predator
Barnes explains that as the top avian predator the golden eagle is particularly important to the environment because they help keep the balance in the food chain. “For humans they are doubly good because they happen to eat a wide variety of species that are potentially detrimental specifically to agricultural practices. We’re talking about rabbits, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, which can have detrimental impacts on cattle ranching with the holes they dig. It’s a natural pesticide to let nature do its thing,” he said.
NDOW has chosen to feature the golden eagle as part of its 100th anniversary of the Convention between the United States and Great Britain (for Canada) for the Protection of Migratory Birds – also called the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The treaty was signed on Aug. 16, 1916 and is the cornerstone to conserving birds that migrate across international borders.
As part of the centennial celebration of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act NDOW has scheduled several items including statewide educational events, bird of the month feature, weekly migratory bird Tweets and a podcast dedicated to Nevada’s work with migratory birds on the Nevada Wild website at www.NevadaWild.org. NDOW is also asking the public to share their photos of migratory birds in Nevada with the hashtags #Nevada and #BirdYear.