‘Show a little kindness:’ A lesson about relationships from the Golden eagles near Hamer

It was a better affectionate love scene than in any movie I have ever seen. The male Golden Eagle waited on a cross-piece of an electrical pole as another Golden approached. Instead of flying away, he moved closer to the pole to allow the other to join him.

They talked together for a minute and then the female bowed to the male, rubbing her head on his folded wing. Then as she raised her head, he gave her a “beak” kiss on her forehead and she responded with a gentle rubbing of his chest with her clawed foot. They talked together for a few minutes before they engaged in a double “beak” kiss and he flew off, probably looking for some warm food, like a jackrabbit, to share with her.

Golden Eagles mate for life and they show affection for each other about 10 months of the year. If you get a chance to observe a pair as they express kindness, gentleness and caring for each other, you are indeed lucky. They will also engage in fake breeding year-round, but the female is only fertile for two to three weeks in the spring when the eggs are developing in her.

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The female responds to the kiss by gently rubbing the males chest. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

My friend, Steve, and I witnessed the affectionate actions of this pair of magnificent birds of prey. They have been attracted to this area by at least six elk carcasses that have been killed by vehicles in the last two weeks. The carnage has attracted magpies, crows, ravens, and these eagles. With hundreds of wintering elk on both sides of Interstate 15, many more may be hit, creating a food source for meat-eating birds. After a crash, the scavenging birds have a fresh meal and Steve and I headed out to attempt to see the feast last Tuesday morning.

We did not see very many birds until we were about six miles north of Hamer when Steve quickly said, “three Balds in that tree.” The next scrub tree had four ravens with a gaggle of ravens, magpies and a crow on a dead cow elk next to the fence between the frontage road and the interstate.

As we traveled the next four miles, we saw the 13 Golden Eagles and one more single bald eagle on power poles but none trying to feed on the dead elk. The elk bodies appeared to be frozen, making it hard for the birds to harvest breakfast and the eagles appeared to be waiting for some fresh meat.

Brian Wehausen, manager of the Camas National Wildlife Refuge, had told me about the dead elk and “we have about 15 to 20 eagles coming into the refuge to roost each night but the bigger numbers are near the dead elk.” I had assumed that the eagles were mostly Bald eagles and were surprised when we found more Goldens than Balds along I-15.

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A Golden eagle flying along I-15. | Bill Schiess, EastIdahoNews.com

Steve and I were running a little late but decided to check the large cottonwoods north of the Camas NWR Headquarters on the way home. We were surprised because there are usually only one or two Balds that spend the day on the refuge, but instead, there were 21 in the row of trees. It appeared that their bellies were already full and they had come back to roost.

During January, only about 20 Bald eagles roost at the refuge but those numbers will expand to 50 to 70 Balds in February. Those numbers are the result of eagles visiting local ranches while calving and lambing take place.

Golden eagles do not roost at the refuge but prefer to roost singly or in pairs and not in large loose groups like the Balds do. Seeing the 13 and another three Goldens along the Egin-Hamer Road, was a treat for Steve and me. But the greatest experience of the day was watching the pair of Goldens work on their personal relationship. Maybe we, humans, can learn a little from these beautiful, magnificent birds by treating others with a little more affection, gentleness and according to Mr. Smith in the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, “show a little kindness to the other guy.”

Be safe out there and watch for elk crossing the roads. Parts from cars scattered around the dead elk indicate that a few vehicles also died with them.

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