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Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) Fact Sheet: Population & Conservation Status

Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

Population Status

Population estimates

  • Approximately 300,000 indviduals, worldwide (BirdLife International 2016)
    • About 200,000 mature individuals
    • Very large
    • European population: 9,000-12,000 pairs
  • Not many baseline studies of golden eagle populations in western U.S. (Good et al. 2007)
  • Population in southern California showed declines after significant urbanization (Bittner and Oakley 1998)
  • Estimates of U.S. populations in prime golden eagle habitat in eastern Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, northern New Mexico and Arizona, western North and South Dakota (but not Alaska or California) (Good et al. 2007):
    • Transects flown in low-elevation sagebrush to grassland basins to high elevation coniferous forests and meadows
    • 27,392 individuals recorded over 1,959,548 sq km (756,586 sq mi) area
    • Military - owned lands, urban areas, Department of Energy lands, large water bodies all excluded
  • Total North American population estimated:
    • 50,000 (Snow 1973)
    • 70,000 (Palmer 1988)
  • Great Britain (2003): 442 pairs recorded (Eaton et al. 2007)

Conservation Status

IUCN Status

  • Least Concern (2016 assessment) (BirdLife International 2016)
    • Large Asian and North American populations justify this status; populations in European countries have seen great declines

CITES Status

Conservation History

  • Protected in Canada, Mexico, and U.S. by Migratory Bird Treaty Act
  • 1962: Amendment to Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 to include Golden Eagles
  • 1970s: Utility companies learn to modify powerlines to prevent eagle electrocution; some new lines built to these standards. (Kochert et al. 2002)
  • 1972: Use of poisons prohibited on public lands in U.S.
  • 1972. Migratory Bird Treat originally passed in U.S. in 1918 amended to include eagles, hawk, owls, and corvids. (Millar 2002)
    • Prohibits taking, killing, possession, transportation, and importation of migratory birds, their eggs, parts, and nests except as authorized with a valid permit.
  • 1980s: In the U.S. (Tesky 1994)
    • Pronounced declines in coastal southern California populations
    • Species of special concern in Washington and Montana
    • Population presumably stable in other western states
    • Recognized as endangered in Maine, New Hampshire, New York
  • 1991: U.S. federal ban on lead shot in wetlands or for waterfowl; 26 states have additional regulations (Avery & Watson 2009)
    • Several Scandinavian countries have the complete bans for lead shot for all hunting
  • 2002: Federal protection in U.S. as Bird of Conservation Concern under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection (USFWS 2002)
  • Rangeland management can help golden eagles by:
    • Minimizing introduced vegetation such as cheat grass
    • Encouraging native plants that provide habitat for the eagle's prey species of rodents and rabbits. (see http://www.hawkwatch.org.)
  • Wind energy farms need careful planning with guidelines for protecting sensitive habitats and migratory routes
    • San Diego Zoo researchers have participated in a study of golden eagle habitat use and population characteristics in northern Baja California 

Threats to Survival

Influence of human activities

  • Humans responsible for more than 70% of golden eagle deaths, including: (Kochert et al. 2002)
    • Collisions with vehicles, power lines, wind turbines - 27% of deaths
    • Electrocution - 25 % of deaths
    • Gunshot - 15 % of deaths
    • Poisoning - 6 % of deaths
      • Susceptible to chemicals used to kill rodents and protect crops
      • Killed incidentally by traps and poison intended for mammalian carnivores
  • Lead poisoning affects many golden eagles (Stauber et al 2010)
  • Human population growth encroaches on open spaces needed by eagles (as in southern coastal California and Colorado's Front Range)
  • Fires affect golden eagle populations adversely when their prey loses habitat
    • Survival of eagles depends on adequate prey; in areas where humans have impacted prey, eagles decline
  • Human presence greatly affects this species (Palmer 1988)
    • Some eagles habituate to humans
      • Long-time nesting sites used even with passing trains or busy highways nearby

In Flight

Golden Eagle in sky

Golden Eagles are abundant, and protected by U.S. federal law.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

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