Form and Function

Aquila chrysaetos, commonly known as the Golden Eagle, is notorious for being North America’s largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of five to seven feet (Ferguson-Lees, 2001). Since A. chrysaetos does little to no nest building, they find shelter for nesting on cliff faces and open ledges (Watson, 2010). To adapt to this rough environment AquilaEagle mid-flight. Permission from Wikimedia Commons. chrysaetos has developed great flying skills. These great birds use their massive wings to propel them through the air at speeds up to 200 mph when in full stoop after prey. Golden Eagles have been found to travel up to 60 to 90 miles per day for migratory purposes using their flight skills to their advantage (Watson, 2010). By launching itself at prey, mainly small rodents, such as ground squirrels, mice, and weasels, Aquila chrysaetos shows its spot at the top of the food chain is well deserved. Golden Eagles have even been known to kill larger mammals such as goats by throwing them off of high cliffs (Tesky, 1994).  

In an experiment done on the predatory functional morphology of raptors, it was found that a bird’s talons are not used to kill their prey. Instead, if the animal is not paralyzed by the initial blow of the attack the talons are then used to kill by thoracic compression (Fowler, Freedman, and Scannella, 2009). Aquila Foot and talons of Golden Eagle. Permission by Wikimedia Commons., along with other birds of prey such as the Bald Eagle, are known for their keen eyesight and sense of hearing. The eagles “hawk- eyes” are what truly make them the amazing hunters they are. “Long-range stoops, which rely on the eagle’s keen eyesight and on high-speed flight are used to catch dispersed prey in the open country” (Watson, 2010). There have been recent discoveries that show birdYoung Mongolian boy with Golden Eagle. Permission by John Delany Photographer. may even have a sharper sense of smell than we originally believed. It was once believed that birds were anosmic, otherwise known as having no sense of smell, but it has been found that they use their sense of smell for activities such as finding mates and directing themselves home (Lipske, 2013). Another way in which the Golden Eagle adapts to its environment is through its flight skills. In a study conducted on the migratory patterns of Aquila chrysaetos affected by meteorological conditions, it shows the migrating raptors adjusted their flight styles to fit the wind lift, this helped them in terms of the energy cost of migration (Lanzone et al., 2012).

Read more about how the Golden Eagle's form and function affects their reproduction.

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