No. 26. Aquila Chrysaetus, Lin.
The Golden Eagle.
As to the breeding of this noble bird within our limits, I have no information. During all the many trips that I have myself made in the interior of the Himalayas, and in all the collections of Himalayan birds that I have examined, I have never seen a specimen. Every so called Golden Eagle, which has as yet been sent me, has proved to be A. Imperialis, in the dark third stage of Plumage. Capt. Cock and others feel sure that they have seen it, but none of them seem as yet to have bagged one. Mr. Hodgson, I am told, sent specimens from Nepal; but I have been unable to learn whether they were shot there or brought in from Thibet.
As far as I yet know, this bird is of such excessive rarity in the Himalayas, south of the snows, as scarcely to deserve a place in our list. Mr. R. Thompson says - : "I have seen a large Eagle very similar in size to the adult A. Chrysaetus, but of a dark brown colour with two large moon-shaped whitish spots on each wing, near the base of the primaries; also with the tail white, ringed with a band of dark brown. These I think must be the young of A. Chrysaetus. They were observed close under the snow line." A supposed A. Chrysaetus, however, sent me by Mr. Thompson proved to be a huge female Imperialis.
Dr. Stoliczka tells us that this species " is often seen about Kotegurh and further east," but although I have at Kotegurh a regular establishment for shooting and preserving birds, - : from whom I have received more than one thousand specimens, - : who have special injunctions to shoot all large Eagles and who have sent me several A. Imperialis, I have as yet received no example of this species; and that although I have tried to stimulate my men by promises of large rewards should they secure a specimen, they say that there is no species, but the one sent, A. Imperialis.
Of the breeding of the Golden Eagle in Europe, Mr. Yarrell says, " The Golden Eagle makes a flattened platform nest, or rather, a collection of strong sticks, on high and inaccessible rocks, occupying a space of several square feet. The female bird which is considerably larger than the male, lays two and sometimes three eggs, towards the end of the month of March or the beginning of April. If the eggs are removed, it is said that the bird does not lay any more that season. The egg is about three inches long, by two inches and five lines broad, of a dirty white colour, slightly mottled nearly all over with pale reddish brown. Incubation with the Golden Eagle, according to Mr. Mudie, lasts thirty days, and the young Eaglets are at first covered with greyish white down."
Mr. Hewitson, quoting chiefly from Mr. Wolley, tells us, that the Golden Eagle begins to breed in March or early in April, and will return to the same eyrie for many successive years. It makes a nest of great size composed of sticks, (or in Shetland, where it would be difficult to find sticks, of long rope-like pieces of seaweed) lined with roots, dry grass, heather, moss, fern or other vegetable, not animal, materials. The nests, though usually on rocky ledges of precipices, are by no means always in inaccessible places, but may often be climbed to, from above or below without ropes and with little difficulty. The usual number of eggs is two, but three are sometimes found in the same nest; they are laid at intervals of several days. The hen sits very close after she begins to lay, so that the first egg is ready to hatch before the second.
The eggs are broad, very perfect ovals; slightly compressed towards one end ; they vary very much in colour, some being as above described by Mr. Yarrell; some having reddish white grounds, richly blotched and spotted, or thickly mottled, streaked, and clouded with varying shades of red, and reddish brown; a few are pure white, (then hardly distinguishable from the sea Eagle's); one egg is described as mottled closely throughout with ochreous brown, out the ordinary type Mr. Ilewitson seems to consider to be a closely mottled, dingy reddish ground with more or less deep red, specks, spots, and small blotches. Three eggs figured by this gentleman, measure according to his figures (usually very exact) 3 X 2.35, 3.13 X 2.3, 2.95 X 2.35.
To Dr. Jerdon's range of this species, we must add N. W. Africa. Col. Drummond Hay, I think, mentioned it as being found in Tangiers, and Mr. Tyrwhitt in the Ibis for 1867 remarks, that " it breeds at Tetuan, though not in great numbers.,, Mr. Tristram found it throughout the Barbary provinces, chiefly in the various dayats, or unimprovable oases, where it was breeding on Terebinth trees (Pistacia Atlantica,) making a huge platform of sticks on the topmost boughs. In one dayat in particular, that of Terebinet, a day's journey north of Berragan in the Nizab, the birds were almost gregarious, no less than seven pairs having their nests in one wood, described as " extending over many acres."
I append measurements and a description of a magnificent young female, shot in the south of France, and now in Col. Tytler's collection, in what is known in England as the ring-tail stage of Plumage.
Length, 41. (?) Wing, 27.63. Tail, 16.25. Tarsus, 4.38. Mid toe (to root of claw), 0.3. Inner toe, 1.94. Hind toe, 1.81. The two latter, with the tarsus, enormously stout.
Mid toe claw. Outer toe claw. Inner toe claw. Hind toe claw.
Length along curve 1.81 1.31 2.44 2.75
Circumference at base 1.13 0.88 1.5 1.53
Bill along curve, from edge of cere, 2; from gape, 2.75. Height at edge of cere, 1. Width at gape, 1.94 (?) Length of cere, 0.91.
DESCRIPTION. The bird is rich purplish brown, the feathers of the occiput and nape, narrowly pointed and tipped with rufous fawn. Scapulars and secondaries much darker, the coverts lighter, primaries almost black. Basal half of the tail pure white, (hence the English name of ring-tail) then a broad, irregular, mottled grey band and the rest nearly black. All but the first three primaries have much white at the base. Underneath, the same purple brown, much variegated, especially on the breast, and lower tail coverts with white, all the feathers being pure white at the base.
The enormous strength of the tarsi, feet, and claws, distinguish it at once from the finest Imperialis, but the bill is not, it seems to me, proportionally stronger.