Golden Eagle Tracking
Audubon Minnesota, the National Eagle Center, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Program, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - Endangered Resources Program are involved in a project to increase our understanding of the biology and management needs of golden eagles wintering along the Mississippi River.
Golden Eagles do not breed in the Upper Midwest and have not been considered regular users of the Mississippi River during the winter. In Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa there have been reports over the years of golden eagles during spring, fall or winter from most parts of the states.
Records of fall migration over Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN date back to 1951. From 1951-1963 24 golden eagles were counted from Hawk Ridge with annual counts varying between 0-7 per year. However, counting during that period was usually limited to September and early October so many birds may have been missed. More recent fall counts from Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory have recorded up to 200 birds annually with smaller numbers in spring.
Recent January surveys coordinated by the National Eagle Center and carried out by volunteers have uncovered a regular wintering population of at least 80 golden eagles using the coulees and bluffs along the Mississippi River from Red Wing, MN to LaCrosse, WI. This wintering population does not mix with the much larger and better known population of wintering and breeding bald eagles found in the same area. Our initial work indicates that the breeding origin of these birds is in Eastern Canada from the west side of Hudson Bay to the Atlantic coast.
A winter population of golden eagles along the Upper Mississippi River raises new and important management questions and challenges. Learning the breeding origin (or origins) of these birds is of high importance. The breeding population in northern Ontario is thought to be small and thus vulnerable. If there are birds are moving from western breeding areas they could be severely impacted by wind generator projects proposed for the Great Plains and western Minnesota.
Golden eagle habitat use, preferred prey, and home range during the winter is information that will be needed to ensure appropriate management and conservation action along the Mississippi River. Most of the wintering area in which these eagles 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 goals of this project are to:
- Better understand the numbers, distribution, and habits of wintering golden eagles along the Mississippi River.
- Identify the breeding origins and migratory routes of these birds and the timing of their use.
- Begin the process of developing appropriate conservation and management strategies for these birds.
- Inform and engage the public in carrying out these goals.
Learn More About the Wintering Population of Golden Eagles in Southwestern Wisconsin and Southeastern Minnesota
A detailed presentation of what we currently know about golden eagles in this area was published by Scott Mehus and Mark Martell in 2010 in The Passenger Pigeon, the journal of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. A PDF of that article can be found here.