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Golden Eagle

Golden Eagle

North Dakota Species of Conservation Priority II

Fact Sheet
Scientific Name Aquila chrysaetos
General Description L 30”, WS 79”, 10 lb. Dark brown overall, feathered legs, brown eyes, and black beak. The head turns golden as an adult.
Status Both year-round and migratory. Peak breeding season early April to July.
Abundance Uncommon.
Primary Habitat Rugged portions of the badlands, buttes overlooking native prairie, large trees, and often found associated with prairie dog towns.
Federal Status Migratory Bird. Additional protection under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
Reason for Designation Although recent research indicates Golden Eagles are not declining widely in the western United States, they may be susceptible to increasing unintentional lethal take and disturbance due to changes on the landscape at both state and national levels. It is included on the USFWS Bird of Conservation Concern list in Region 6 and BCR 17. Partners in Flight (PIF) identifies the Golden Eagle as a Regional Concern Species.

Locations and Conditions of Key Habitat

Preferred Habitat

Open shrubland and grasslands of shortgrass, mixed-grass, and xeric grasslands are preferred by Golden Eagles. Avoids heavily forested areas but will use riparian or woodland/brushland habitat. Typically nest on cliffs but also in trees such as cottonwood and green ash, or even on or near the ground. Nests on cliffs generally face southerly. Nests will be reused by returning eagles or a new pair. Some are associated with black-tailed prairie dog towns. Primary prey includes ground squirrels and jackrabbits; however, eagles are opportunistic and other prey include turkey, coyote, antelope, porcupine, skunk, bighorn sheep lambs, great-horned owls, and waterfowl.

Key Areas and Conditions for Golden Eagle in North Dakota

The badlands and Lake Sakakawea breaks, are key areas for Golden Eagle nest site selection in North Dakota.

Problems Which May Affect this Species


Eagles may be limited by the abundance of their primary prey, rabbits and ground squirrels. The effect of roads fragmenting the landscape, and oil and gas exploration, is unknown.

Other Natural or Manmade Factors

Collisions with vehicles, power lines, or other structures, and electrocution are the leading human-induced causes of death. Collisions with wind turbines is of increasing concern. Pesticides or contaminants are a threat when eagles consume poisoned prey. Golden Eagles are occasionally exposed to lead, possibly from consuming non-waterfowl prey. Human activity such as recreational viewing, research activities, noise, agricultural or energy development activities, or the mere presence of humans may agitate nesting eagles if the disturbance is close (less than330 ft.) and/or persistent. This may result in eagles being inadvertently flushed from the nest for extended periods of time and could result in the death of the young or nest abandonment.

Research and Survey Efforts

Current Research or Surveys

  • The NDGF maintains the statewide database of known Golden Eagle nests in cooperation with the USFWS. In 2014, there were 600 known nest sites in the database: 139 active (eagle use documented in one or more years since 2000), 246 inactive (no eagle use documented since 2000), and 215 destroyed (Johnson 2015).
  • Environmental consultants conduct nest surveys for energy or utility development.

Previous Research or Surveys

  • University of North Dakota (ND SWG T-3-R) assessed the current status of Golden Eagle populations and evaluate the potential effects of disturbance, surveys were conducted of nesting Golden Eagles in and around the Little Missouri National Grasslands (LMNG). The project was initiated in 2002 and continued through 2006. A final report provided in 2007. Based on new nest surveys, 411 potential nest sites were estimated with 63 being occupied (Coyle 2007). Movements of 17 juvenile Golden Eagles were monitored from July 2004 - March 2009 (Johnson 2014).
  • For the past couple of decades, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have documented over 400 Golden Eagle nests in western North Dakota.
  • Craig Knowles conducted a survey of 214 previously recorded Golden Eagle nests on the LMNG in 2001 (Knowles 2003).
  • In the mid 1980’s, Golden Eagles were resurveyed in the southwest and a population estimate of 95±65 birds was determined (Allen 1985).
  • Numerous published reports and gray literature on this species throughout its entire range.

Additional Research or Surveys Needed

  • Identify nesting territories.
  • Determine diet composition, conduct a prey population assessment, and how prey availability may impact the breeding population.

Population and Trend Estimates

  • PIF Global Population Estimate: 300,000
  • PIF North American Population Estimate: 130,000
  • PIF North Dakota Population Estimate: 400
  • North Dakota Population Estimate: unknown (total number of adults, subadults, and juveniles)
  • North Dakota Number of Occupied Nests: ~40-60

Management Recommendations

  • Maintain a buffer zone of no disturbance around eagle nests (i.e. from roads, mining operations, energy development, etc.)
  • Utility development should follow the guidance of “Suggested Practices for Avian Protection on Power Lines: The State of the Art in 2006” and “Reducing Avian Collisions with Power Lines” including marking power lines and creating an Avian Protection Plan.
  • Wind industry companies should collaborate with the American Wind and Wildlife Institute for responsible wind development and follow the USFWS “Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance.”

Monitoring Plans

Continue to maintain a list and spatial database of known Golden Eagle nest sites. Considerations in Golden Eagle monitoring should refer to “Interim Golden Eagle Technical Guidance: Inventory and Monitoring Protocols; and Other Recommendations in Support of Golden Eagle Management and Permit Issuance.”

2005-2015 Progress

The Golden Eagle remains a Level II Species of Conservation Priority. A nest site spatial database has been developed and is being used to minimize impacts to nesting eagles.

Range Map

Note: A listing of works consulted when compiling the information on this page may be found in the 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan.