New York Natural Heritage Program
Golden Eagle
Aquila chrysaetos (Linnaeus, 1758)
Birds

Threats [-]
As with many raptor species, Golden Eagles were heavily persecuted by humans for decades until attitudes changed and protections were passed in the 1960s. Shooting, trapping and poisoning were common methods employed to kill eagles. Spofford (1971b) described one nesting area in the Adirondacks where a dozen eagles were shot or trapped over a decade, until the site was finally abandoned when the last eagle was shot. The amount of open area for hunting around most eyries in the Adirondacks was found to have decreased significantly between 1942-1968 (Andrle and Carroll 1988). An uncertain or irregular food supply, related primarily to these marginal habitat conditions result in a very low reproductive rate in the Adirondacks compared to the western U.S. (Spofford 1971b). Survival of the long lived adults (up to 30 yr.) is thus even more crucial to population stability. Electrocutions on power poles were common, especially in the western U.S, until power pole designs were changed. Impacts on migrating eagles of wind power development in the Appalachians is currently being studied by researchers at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, but preliminary investigations indicate that the potential for direct mortality and detrimental behavioral effects is very high (Brandes and Ombalski 2004). Finally, the decline of the eastern Golden Eagle population coincided with that of other raptor species affected by DDT, and other organochlorine pesticides. Because the eastern eagles rely on more of an avian diet, they are at the terminus of a longer food chain and thus accumulate higher contaminant residues (Spofford 1971) than eagles feeding primarily on mammals. Residues of organic contaminants have been detected in Golden Eagles tested in New York and unhatched eggs from the last pair in Maine in 1996 (which had been plagued with nest failure for years) revealed a "tremendous contaminant burden" (New York StateDepartment of Environmental Conservation files). Nevertheless, numbers of migrating Golden Eagles at Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania (most likely individuals coming from the northern Quebec population) started declining before the DDT period and appear to have stabilized since the early 1970s (Bednarz et al. 1990). The loss of the Golden Eagle as a breeding species in New York State was thus caused by a combination of factors including a very small and isolated initial population, human persecution, loss of open boreal type habitats (primarily to succession), and the (sub)lethal effects of organochlorine contaminant accumulation.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices [-]
Any current management in New York State is relevant primarily to the wintering site in Dutchess County. This site occurs on a protected nature preserve, but private lands also encompass some of the roosting territory, and nearly all of the foraging area for the eagles. Logging has occurred in roosting habitat on private land, and should be discouraged since Golden Eagles are shy and reclusive. Thus, care should be taken to minimize any human disturbances (including overzealous birdwatching) in the vicinity of the wintering grounds. In 1993, the eagles built a flimsy stick nest in a pine tree, but have never attempted to nest, although Bald Eagles have recently been found nesting very nearby (NYSDEC files). Productive wetlands occur near the wintering area, and clearly this location must offer enough food for the eagles to consistently overwinter at this site. High prey densities could potentially prompt the eagles to attempt a nest in this area in the future.

Research Needs [-]
Between 50-150 migrants per year pass through New York on their way to wintering grounds in the mid Atlantic and central and southern Appalachians (Brandes and Ombalski 2004). Through the application of sattelite transmitter technology, these birds are now known to originate on breeding grounds in northern Quebec (Brodeur et al. 1996). This strongly suggests that the Adirondack population is an outlier or southern disjunct of this northern source population that may become occupied when densities in Quebec are high and floaters (un-mated birds) are searching for unoccupied territories. Alternatively, it also suggests that re-establishment or hacking of young Quebec birds back into the Adirondacks could be a successful (albeit costly) strategy. At any rate, research opportunities should be sought with agencies in Quebec currently studying Golden Eagles (i.e., G.R.E.B.E., Inc.). Most of the Quebec birds pass through well known migration corridors such as Franklin Mountain in Otsego County, Derby Hill along eastern Lake Ontario, and Hawk Mountain in central Pennsylvania, which because of their unique geographical positions, are also the same areas where wind developments are targeted (Brandes and Ombalski 2004). The National Aviary at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History is currently studying the effects of wind development on migrating Golden Eagles in Pennsylvania and research partnerships with them should be established.