Wintering Golden Eagle Survey Observes Record Number Eagles

Golden EagleThe Wintering Golden Eagle Survey gathers important data to document a regular wintering population of golden eagles in the upper Midwest. This year’s survey broke a record on two fronts. A record number of golden eagles -147 total – with 90 adults and 50 sub-adult/immature were identified.

Combined with our tracking data (see update below), this survey has really expanded our understanding of golden eagles in the Midwest. This year’s survey included surveyors across the blufflands of southeast MN, western WI and northeast IA covering 66 survey areas.

Volunteer observers also document other birds, especially raptors, seen during the survey. This year, volunteers also observed 1,509 bald eagles, which is significant because most of the survey area is focused away from the Mississippi River, where thousands of bald eagle spend the winter. When food sources are abundant even in the bluffs and areas away from open water, bald eagles can be found in many places across the Midwest.

The Wintering Golden Eagle Survey is part of an on-going project to learn more about the golden eagle population in the region, including their migration patterns and habitat needs. The Golden Eagle Project is currently tracking golden eagles using GPS-linked satellite telemetry. More detailed survey results and links to satellite tracking maps are available on the National Eagle Center’s website at

Golden Eagle Project update:

The Golden Eagle Project was undertaken in order to better understand the biology and management needs of golden eagles in the upper Midwest and to appropriately disseminate this information to assist landowners and managers in ensuring the conservation of these birds.

In addition to the annual Survey, the Golden Eagle Project continues to track golden eagles in the Midwest using GPS-linked satellite telemetry. Over the last six years, we have put transmitters on six golden eagles. Two of those are still transmitting live signals of their movements throughout the year, and both birds are teaching us more about the range of golden eagles in the Midwest.

#53 Jack is currently wintering along the Arkansas/Missouri border, as he has for the past couple of years. This is a bird that was captured and released up at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory (Duluth, MN) in

November 2012, as he migrated past. He continues to spend his summers in northern Canada, and return to the Ozarks each winter. This is the farthest south we have tracked a golden eagle in the Midwest.

#54 Ripley was captured and released last winter at Camp Ripley in central MN. This bird had been seen on one of the Camp’s trail cams. After some conversation with Camp staff about how often the bird was being seen, the Project determined it would be worth attempting to get a transmitter on this bird. Ripley was released in March 2015. Last summer, Ripley migrated to far northern Canada before returning to central MN this winter. Although well outside the blufflands region, Ripley’s return to central MN means that the possible winter range of golden eagles in MN is much bigger than we may have thought.

#45 Jeanette was released in 2012 near Waupaca, WI. She had been a regular winter inhabitant of the area. Her annual migration to her nest in far northern Canada was an amazing feat. For three years in a row, she arrived at her breeding territory on exactly April 3. This is a journey of more than 2,000 miles. Just this last spring though, she arrived just a few days later on April 6th. On her fall migration back to WI, we stopped receiving a signal in November. A few weeks later we got word that her leg band had been recovered – Jeanette was found dead in a leg hold trap in Ontario.

Here’s what Golden Eagle Project partner Audubon Minnesota had to say:

“It is rare to learn the fate of a bird, even one with a transmitter. You can either assume the transmitter failed, or the bird died. We had been getting some spotty transmissions from Jeanette leading up to her last location, so had assumed it was the end of the transmitter’s lifespan. Only recently did we learn that Jeanette was reported to the USGS Bird Banding Lab as a band recovery through the Bird Banding Office in Canada. The little information we know is that she was caught in a leg-hold trap, typically used to trap wolves and other furbearers. This sort of incidental take does happen and we are working to learn more about how this trap was set and if there are any changes that could be implemented to reduce the potential impact to unintended targets, such as bald and golden eagles. 

 –From Kristin Hall at Audubon MN (Golden Eagle Project partner) for more about the project and survey

The Golden Eagle Project is a partnership of the National Eagle Center and Audubon Minnesota, with participation from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and funding support from through Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.