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Eye on the eagle

Ian Cropp

From the coat of arms of Nigeria, Egypt and Moldova to church lecterns to dollar bills, eagles are ubiquitous.

It only makes sense then, that in nature, eagles are quite rare.

For those in Eagle County looking to get a real-life glimpse of a our national symbol, there is no need to go to online, to a book, or even the Denver Zoo ” just look up in the sky. If you are around in the summer, you’ll likely see an eagle or two downvalley.

There are only two types of eagles in Colorado ” golden and bald ” the golden more populous than the bald.

“Both migrate, but both nest around here,” said Jerry Fedrizzi, a birding enthusiast who lives, aptly, in Eagle.

While there may not be any known nesting bald eagles in the county, they do travel through the area, and there are several nests just west of here.

“There are some between Carbondale and Glenwood and another nest by Rifle,” Fedrizzi said. “The ones you’ll see coming through here are just migrating.”

Before you start looking for eagles, though, it may be important to differentiate between eagles and falcons.

“Falcons tend to be smaller in size, and their wing shape is different,” said Amanda Morrison, the education coordinator at the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. “Eagles in general tend to have very straight, wide wings.”

Also, eagles have feathers at the end of their wings that they spread and use to soar. Falcons, Morrison said, tend to be smaller and faster flyers.

OK, so you know the bird is too big to be a falcon. Don’t jump to conclusions just yet.

“People can confuse eagles and turkey vultures,” Fedrizzi said.

Turkey vultures are large, like an eagle, but they have v-shaped wings and often fly in groups of four or five. A key giveaway for a turkey vulture is its head, which is red and devoid of feathers. That, and they’ll scavenge just about anything.

There are some key physical features that should allow you to identify a golden from a bald eagle.

“Goldens are quite a bit larger in size, and have a longer wing span,” Morrison said. “And mature bald eagles have white heads and white tails. But before they mature, their coloring is very similar to that of the golden eagle. A lot of people confuse the two. The easiest way is just to go by size.”

To throw another wrench into things, juvenile goldens have some white patches, but there are some other ways to find out what you’re looking at: where you are.

“Goldens generally like rocky projections and cliffs,” Fedrizzi said. “Balds can be found around rivers and lakes.”

And if it’s lunch time, check out their dining habits: Bald eagles tend to go for fish and sometimes ducks, while the goldens swoop down to catch rabbits and ground squirrels.


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