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My amazing golden eagle skull


Since last week I have been hinting about this skull, and now I can finally say what it is. It is a golden eagle skull !

If you haven't read the other two stories before this, I was sent an amazing biscuit tin of bones as a surprise by some I had never met before who worked as a deer stalker in the Highlands of Scotland. He told me he had collected these skulls over his life, and now he was retired and when he died his family were just going to throw them away. He read about me in the newspaper and sent the tin to my village without even a house or street name, but still the postman found the house.

You might think a ten year old boy shouldn't be allowed to have such a precious and rare skull as this, but I have spent six weeks, about 30 emails and phone calls, and contacting two government deartments to make sure I can keep it. From the very first moment I first got it, I told some expert friends, and they gave me very good advice. I checked the law (which is confusing), then got in touch with Scottish Natural Heritage who looked at all the information  I had, and how the bird died, then decided I was allowed to keep it. Then dad phoned DEFRA who said I didn't need any more licences or permissions from them. I have done loads and loads and loads of checking with experts, and I am definitely allowed to keep it. I wrote about all that did in a post yesterday. But here's more about this amazing skull.

This is an enormous skull for a bird. As soon as I saw it, I knew it could only be from one of two birds. One was a golden eagle, and the other was a white-tailed sea eagle (which is even bigger). The golden eagle is one of the most famous creatures you will see in Scotland, and there are about 400 breeding pairs here, all up north of me in the Highlands. It is one of the most powerful birds of prey there is, and it hunts rabbits, foxes, cats and young deer.

Here is it beside a kestrel skull (on the left) and a buzzard skull (in the middle). It is 12cm long, 6cm wide at the widest part, and 5cm high when on the lower jaws. That makes it bigger than a cat skull and not much smaller than a fox skull.

Here's my skull next to an actual golden eagle. You can see the beak on the real bird seems to go down further because i is covered with a beak sheat. You can see where the nostril is on the yellow part which takes air through into the nasal cavity. It has a powerful beak and a much longer neck than a buzzard.

Even so it reminded me a lot of a buzzard skull. If you didn't know the size, it would be difficult to tell which was which in a photograph, but the golden eagle beak is bigger and thicker in proportion to the rest of it.

Even from the back they look almost exactly the same. Their colours are the same in real life as well, and a lot of tourists in Scotland mistake buzzards for golden eagles. 

If you look carefully at the back you can see something interesting. It had a cracked skull !

This golden eagle had been killed by being hit by a train, but this injury must have been at least months before the train crash because the bone has rehealed. This eagle was very very lucky to survive it and there was still a tiny gap on the left side of the crack.  I asked some experts how it might have happened and no-one was quite sure but one suggestion is it could have come from a fight with a fox or cat it tried to pick up, or maybe from another golden eagle.

The underneath of the skull was almost complete, but it was missing the quadrate bone (which hinges the lower jaws) on the right hand side.

If you looked closely there was something else underneath you could see.

It was a hole in the lower part of the skull ! It was all the way through that bone, and the bone had tried to rebuild itself around, but hadn't filled in the gap. This is from the underside.

This was a big puzzle. None of the experts I asked had seen anything like this before, but one suggestion was that it was a shotgun pellet which came from underneath the jaw and lodged in that bone. After the bird rotted down, it fell out. Again, this bone had tried to repair itself so this couldn't have been what caused it to die. But the hole on the upper mouth might have leaked air into the mouth when flying which could have made it difficult to fly properly.

Having this skull is an enormous responsibility. The person who sent it to me is trusting me to keep it safe and be sensible with it. It is an amazing skull to have, but even so I made absolutely sure I was allowed to keep it first, and I am proud that everyone is trusting me with it. It is the prize of my collection !

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Anonymous said...

Woah,I wish I could have that!True,I once saw 8 wild golden eagles in a week last time I was in scotland, but I didn't find any golden eagle skulls! Lucky you.
Jack N

Psydrache said...

I read your last post about this special skull and I was pondering if it could be a snake skull. I never expectet an eagle skull, thats amazing! I'm happy for you :)
And its very exemplary of you that you want your collection all legal and clean, a lot of people can take a leaf out of your book.
I like it if skulls/bones have some damages or a disease, thats like a little story of the life of that animal. Of course, not very funny for the animal when it was allive...

I have an egale head too, got it from a taxidermist:

BagshawSophie said...

Wow :-o thats amazing, I can't believe you worked out what happened to it, genius :-D

HenstridgeSJ said...

That was one tough eagle (though not as tough as the train, obviously). Any idea how old it was?

Mori said...

That is such an incredible skull to have! Golden Eagles are such fantastic birds. Two years ago I went on holiday to the West Highlands and was lucky enough to see one for the first (and only!) time. Its long neck and the huge, heavy beak, which was visible even though it was really high in the air, was how we knew for sure it wasn't a Buzzard. I hope I get to see one again one day. Have you ever seen one before?

Jake said...

@Jack: eight golden eagles in a week is amazing ! Whereabouts were you in Scotland ?

@Psydrache: That's amazing and also a bit weird all at the same time.

@Bagpuss: Thanks !

@HenstridgeSJ: I don't and think it would be difficult to work out from the skull.

@Mori: I saw a golden eagle for the first time last week and I am going to write about it this weekend.

Anonymous said...

The cuillin hills in skye I think (we were in a motorhome so we were driving around everywhere and went to a lot of places)

D said...

They are relatively common where I live in Alberta, Canada, and there is a nesting pair often at the top of my family's field, up in a large tree. A fabulous addition to your collection, and I'm loving your blog. I am a zoologist by training, and love rambling outdoors. I have often been to Britain, to England and Wales where my family is from, but only once to Scotland.

jordan said...

WOW WOW WOW WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THats amazing.i cant believe u got a golden eagle skull.i havent been able to write to u much because iv been mr popular and playing with rory (my friend)
your friend
p.s i seen the littlest dog iv ever seen it was so small it was called mini and it was attracted to me

Jack N said...

I've emailed you 2 times:have you read them?

Jake said...

@Jack: I've been away camping with cubs, and I'm only catching up on emails now.

@Jordan and D: thanks !

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