Golden eagles in North America are primarily found in the Western States and Provinces from Mexico through Alaska. There are also small breeding populations in northern Ontario and Quebec. In Ontario the golden eagle is currently designated Endangered under the province’s Endangered Species Act, while in adjacent Quebec it is a candidate for Threatened or Special Concern status.
Golden eagles do not breed in Minnesota, Iowa or Wisconsin and had not been thought of as regular users of the Mississippi River Valley. In Minnesota there have been occasional reports of Golden Eagles in spring, fall and winter from most counties (MOU records – www.mnmou.org). Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory in Duluth, MN annually reports fall migration counts between 115 – 200 birds.
Recent surveys started and coordinated by Scott Mehus of the National Eagle Center, and carried out by volunteer observers have uncovered an apparently regular wintering population numbering between 60 – 100 birds using the coulees and bluffs along the Mississippi River from Red Wing, MN to LaCrosse, WI.
A winter population of golden eagles along the Upper Mississippi River raises new and important management questions and challenges. Knowing the breeding origin (or origins) of these birds is of high importance. It is more than likely that these golden eagles breed in Canada and the size of the breeding population in northern Ontario is thought to be small and thus vulnerable. Their habitat use, preferred prey, and home range during the winter are information that will be needed to ensure appropriate management and conservation action in the Mississippi River Valley. Most of the wintering area in which they are being found is privately owned and under multiple government and agency jurisdictions, hence it will be critical to broadly inform and engage the public, government leaders, and agency personnel in any conservation strategies developed for this species.
The Golden Eagle Project was undertaken in order to better understand the biology and management needs of these golden eagles and to appropriately disseminate this information to assist landowners and managers in ensuring the conservation of these birds.