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Golden Eagle

What does it look like?

Up to 3 feet tall and with a wingspan of 7.5 feet, the imposing Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is one of Manitoba’s largest birds.  The adult is dark brown overall, but has a golden nape, giving the bird its common name.  The head is relatively small in relation to body size.  The beak and feet are large and powerful.  Juveniles have a distinctive white patch at the base of the tail and variably-sized white patches in the wings.  These patches are sometimes lacking. Identification tips can be found here.

Does it Migrate?

Not all populations are migratory.  Those that breed in eastern Canada migrate to the Appalachian mountain area and regions in the Upper Midwest.  Radio-tagged adults from eastern Hudson Bay travelled 26-40 days to reach wintering grounds in Michigan, west Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alabama.  Members of the larger western population that breed in Yukon and Alaska return to wintering areas in the western mountains of the US, and as far south as central Mexico.  Some western breeding populations remain on territory throughout the year.  Southerly breeders are mostly resident year-round. 

Where Does It Live?

Found from Newfoundland and Labrador to Yukon, these magnificent birds are fairly rare in Manitoba.  Despite occasional summer sightings, breeding in the province was not confirmed until the early 2010’s (in Wapusk National Park), as part of the Manitoba Breeding Bird Survey.  Found in a variety of habitats including boreal and tundra zones, grasslands and shrub lands, eastern populations of Golden Eagle breed mainly in northern Quebec, with some breeding also occurring in northern Ontario and Newfoundland/Labrador.  Nesting takes place on cliff edges, or if these are lacking, in large deciduous or coniferous trees able to support the substantial weight of their nests.  One to three eggs are laid. Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) breeding in Wapusk National Park, Manitoba  by Asselin et al found here.

Where Can I See It?

Your best chance to see a Golden Eagle is during migration. As an early spring migrant, these raptors can be seen between early March to early April.  The Pembina Valley’s Windygates hawk-watch site provides the best opportunity to see these birds, though the St. Adolphe hawk-watch site might also produce one or two individuals on a given day.   Between late October and mid-November, Golden Eagles may be observed flying over dry, open areas.  Winter sightings have been reported from the southwest area of the province.

Conservation Status

According to North American Breeding Bird Survey data, populations of Golden Eagle appear to be secure.  They are protected under Manitoba provincial legislation, under Division 6 of The Wildlife Act.

The Golden Eagle is sensitive to disturbance during nesting season, and will abandon an active nest if harassed, leaving the young in a vulnerable position.  Once reviled, Golden Eagles were shot, poisoned and trapped.  Thankfully, these activities are mostly a thing of the past.  Today, loss of nesting/hunting areas due to human encroachment and resource extraction, collisions with vehicles and wind turbines, as well as electrocution from exposed hydro wires, pose some of the birds’ biggest threats.

Did You Know?

Ongoing research is being undertaken to monitor migratory behavioural responses of Golden Eagles (and other animal species) to climate warming in arctic regions of North America.  See a project overview here.