Amicus is a male Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). He came
to the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in the late summer of 2006 from
northeastern Washington. He was hatched in the spring of 2006. Amicus
is completely blind, and the cause is unknown. The most common theories
include heavy metal poisoning, birth defect, or injury. Due to his
blindness, he will stay in captivity for the rest of his life.
“Amicus” is Latin for “friend”.
Adult golden eagles are dark brown, with golden feathers on the back of the
head (the nape) and the top of the wings. Adult males weigh about 7-10
pounds while the females weigh 9-15 pounds. Amicus weighs about 8 pounds.
Golden eagles and juvenile Bald Eagles are very similar in appearance. The
best way to distinguish between the two is to look at the legs. Golden
eagles are “booted”, meaning they have feathering all the way down their
legs to their toes. Bald eagles have “bald” legs. Goldens are found mostly
in the western half of North America, and prefer areas with open land near
mountains or cliffs. They can live in almost any habitat, from Arctic tundra
to southern deserts. The feathering all the way down their legs allows them
to survive in colder climates.
Golden eagles usually nest on cliffs, but may also build a large platform
nest on a building, tree, or other structure with a commanding view of the
surroundings. They will use sticks to build the nest, and softer vegetation
to line the inside. Eagle nests average 5-6 feet across, and are often the
focus of “nest cams”.
Golden Eagles use their tremendous eyesight to locate prey. Most of
their food consists of medium-sized mammals such as rabbits and squirrels,
but they are also known to eat larger prey such as swans and geese, deer,
coyotes, and livestock such as sheep and goats. Many people are familiar
with the videos of golden eagles pushing mountain goats off of cliff ledges
to kill them, since they are too large to subdue by normal means.
Human activity is the greatest threat to the golden eagle. Automobile
collisions, power line electrocutions, and illegal poaching are major causes
of death. These birds are protected by the US Bald and Golden Eagle
Protection Act. There are substantial penalties for intentionally harming an
eagle, although most perpetrators are never caught. Golden eagle populations
have declined, but they are not currently endangered.