Found worldwide in mountainous areas throughout the northern hemisphere, the golden eagle is easily distinguished by its huge talons, long curved claws and hooked bill. In North America, it is commonly found in Alaska, western Canada and the American west.
Sharp-eyed, the eagle usually soars for long periods, then dives to capture and kill prey with its talons. Adaptable and inventive, golden eagles in Israel drop tortoises from heights onto rocks to crack open their shells. The practice appears to have been well-known in the ancient world. Pliny, a Roman natural historian, attributes the death of Aeschylus, a Greek poet, to an eagle dropping a tortoise on his head, apparently mistaking his bald pate for a rock.
Now known to be a boon to farmers by controlling rodent populations, golden eagles were once reviled as a threat to sheep. Ranchers in Texas sponsored a wholesale slaughter of the birds, shooting about 20,000 birds from 1944 to 1964. It has been protected in the United States since 1963.
February 28, 2011