Caturday: Imperious Raptors

The entire universe in blog form
Nov. 16 2013 8:00 AM


Colorado is rich in wildlife. I’ve seen a bit of it out on hikes and such; moose, elk, coyotes, the odd fox and hare.

I’ve also seen some bald eagles, but usually they’re pretty far away. Sometimes far enough that’s it’s hard to tell if they’re eagles or not; a hawk with its feathers catching the sunlight masquerades well as an eagle to my inexperienced birding eye.


But then, sometimes, they’re close enough that the distinction isn’t so hard to make.

Taking wing.

Photo by Phil Plait

Driving home from the airport last week I saw this pair sitting on a power pole. They were obvious even from hundreds of meters away. I see a lot of hawks on these poles, imperiously gazing over their territory, eyes sharp for rodents or other potential snacks. An eagle is clearly different; larger, with that vividly white-feathered head.


Photo by Phil Plait

I drove home to get my camera and see if my daughter wanted to come look. She did, so we went back out, and fortunately the pair was still there. Unfortunately, the only place to park the car was right next to the pole. The eagles weren’t thrilled with that (they glared down at us with a look that was seriously chilling) and took off. I was able to catch one just as it took off, in the first picture above, as well as both of them flying away.


Photo by Phil Plait

They flew to another pole, a few hundred meters down the road. As my daughter drove, I snapped a few more pictures of them settling in. We stopped at a gas station on the way back home, and saw them circling around over a field for a while. They were pretty far, and again if I hadn’t known, I wouldn’t have been able to tell they weren’t hawks. But knowing what they were, well… it was pretty cool.

I have to wonder if this is the same pair I saw back in 2009, also sitting on a pole. That pair was young, and bald eagles live for 20 years or so, so it’s possible. Either way, I know there are nesting grounds in the area around Boulder, so I think I may have to spend some time viewing them. These birds are truly magnificent, and a wonder to behold.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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