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.