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Keeping track of Georgia’s golden eagles

With an average wingspan over 6 feet, the golden eagle, like this one carrying prey in its talons, is an impressive sight. Because of its agility, speed and large, sharp talons, it is is said to be fiercer than its cousin, the bald eagle, our national symbol. PHOTO CREDIT: Chuck Abbe/Creative Commons
With an average wingspan over 6 feet, the golden eagle, like this one carrying prey in its talons, is an impressive sight. Because of its agility, speed and large, sharp talons, it is is said to be fiercer than its cousin, the bald eagle, our national symbol. PHOTO CREDIT: Chuck Abbe/Creative Commons

With an average wingspan of six and a half feet, the golden eagle — one of the world’s largest predatory birds — is unmistakable as it soars for hours above mountain passes, searching for prey as large as foxes, rabbits and geese.

A few spend the winter in Georgia. “To have (golden eagles) wintering right here in Georgia is truly amazing,” says wildlife biologist Ruth Stokes with the Chattahoochee National Forest in North Georgia.

With its agility and speed, combined with powerful feet and massive, sharp talons, the golden eagle is said to be even more majestic than its cousin, the bald eagle, our national symbol.

The golden eagle, though, is rarely seen in Georgia. It prefers the wildest of places with wide expanses of unbroken forest, as far from human habitations as possible, notes biologist Nathan Klaus with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

About the only such wild places that still exist, he says, are on public lands: wilderness areas, national forests, national parks, wildlife refuges and the like. “We wouldn’t have the golden eagle without these public lands,” says Klaus.

He and Stokes are part of projects to trap golden eagles in Georgia, fit them with transmitters and track their migration routes and habitat use in the eastern U.S.

Three birds from Georgia are currently being tracked. One was trapped last month at a Chattahoochee forest site near Dalton. The other two were trapped in a rugged area near Sprewell Bluff State Park on the Flint River in Middle Georgia.

The Georgia birds are part of a small population of eastern golden eagles distinct from the more abundant western populations. Nationwide, however, the birds’ numbers are declining.

Unlike bald eagles, which stay close to open water and feed more on fish, golden eagles — almost entirely chocolate-colored in adulthood — favor open, mountainous forests and a diet of land animals.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full on Sunday. Venus is low in the west at dusk. Mars is in the west at dusk and sets about three hours later. Jupiter rises out of the east before midnight and will appear near the moon on Tuesday night. Saturn rises out of the east about three hours before dawn.