Utah has a new state animal. Here’s where to find it.

Lawmakers officially designated the golden eagle as Utah’s state bird of prey on Wednesday.

(Jim Shuler I Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) The golden eagle became Utah’s official state bird of prey on Wednesday.

Utah has a new state animal—and this time, it’s a bird of prey.

The golden eagle joined the growing list of Utah’s state animals on Wednesday, when Gov. Spencer Cox signed SB116. The state already had an official bird — the sea gull — but the golden eagle was designated the state’s official bird of prey. Other state symbols include the elk and the state reptile, which is the Gila monster.

“It’s a matter of getting people interested in birds of prey and caring about them,” said Cooper Farr, director of conservation for the Tracy Aviary. “Specifically caring about this really kind of iconic, beautiful, interesting bird that the golden eagle is.”

Golden eagles are found throughout western North America from Alaska to Mexico, according to the Division of Wildlife Resources.

Some populations in the northern part of the continent migrate south for the winter, but most of Utah’s golden eagles remain in the state year-round. The raptor is a relatively common sight in Utah, typically found in open country and mountainous regions.

“They’re predators, obviously, and so they are very much dependent on the prey that is out there,” Farr said “They’re able to eat jackrabbits, small mammals and all sorts of prey like that.”

But in recent years, the eagle’s populations have been declining, said Steve Slater, conservation science director with the Utah-based conservation nonprofit HawkWatch International.

The golden eagle’s favorite meal is a jackrabbit, but the species has suffered from habitat loss due to human-caused fires and a disease called rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus 2. As a result, the organism has seen a decline in young eagles making it to 5 years old — which is the species’ typical breeding age, Slater said.

(Jim Shuler I Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) The golden eagle became Utah’s official state bird of prey on Wednesday.

In 2015, the golden eagle was added to the Utah list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Though the species has thousands of breeding pairs in Utah, they reproduce slowly, since they mate for life and often live for 30-plus years.

Because of their large size — with a wingspan of up to 7 feet — golden eagles are also more susceptible to electrocution when perching on power poles and vehicle strike when feeding on roadkill.

But the iconic bird of the West is not in grave danger yet. The species was ranked as “apparently secure” in the state’s 2021 Species of Greatest Conservation Need List, meaning Utah’s golden eagles are uncommon but not rare, with some cause for long-term concern.

“When I think of the beautiful, rugged lands that we have in Utah — these higher elevation places, our beautiful mountains and cliffs and things — they always have a golden eagle in that picture,” Farr said. “They’re really a bird that is around in the state and is just a beautiful, wild thing to see.”

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