River talk

A ‘golden’ opportunity for eagle-watching in winter

By SCOTT RANDO
Posted 11/17/21

The past few decades have seen a resurgence of bald eagles in the region, thanks to the banning of DDT, as well as efforts by state wildlife agencies to re-introduce the species during the 1970s to …

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River talk

A ‘golden’ opportunity for eagle-watching in winter

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The past few decades have seen a resurgence of bald eagles in the region, thanks to the banning of DDT, as well as efforts by state wildlife agencies to re-introduce the species during the 1970s to 1980s. Habitat conservation and awareness has since helped the breeding population increase from a single pair found in the Upper Delaware corridor during 1993 to over 20 breeding pair at present. It is rare that a person travels up or down the river corridor and does not see an eagle.

During the winter months, there is another species of eagle in the region. Golden eagles migrate down from Canada to winter in our region and may be found in the area from November till March. Golden eagles are not native to our area or anywhere in the Northeast U.S. for that matter. They come down into the U.S. to escape the bitterly cold winters of Canada. A couple of golden eagles were seen as early as the middle of October as they migrated past the ridges at Sunrise Mountain in Sussex County, NJ. Some of these golden eagles may winter in this region, but many travel further south, favoring the Appalachian chain through the Virginias and south from there.

Unlike bald eagles, which are primarily fish-eaters, golden eagles are mainly mammal-eaters. Both species may try for the occasional large bird, and both eagles will scavenge road-killed deer and other animals of opportunity. Deer carrion may attract both bald and golden eagles, and dead deer are occasionally seen on the ice of the frozen river. Both species can be seen at the favorite bald eagle viewing sites, but goldens are not numerous; the bald to golden eagles spotted ratio may be 100 to 1 or so.

When golden eagles reach their wintering area, they tend to stay within the general region. A female golden eagle captured in 2008 in Sullivan County ventured into Pike, Wayne, and Monroe counties in PA and Orange County in New York, but ventured no further during the winter, according to satellite telemetry data. If you spend enough time viewing bald eagles, you will likely see one or more goldens for the season. They may appear like an immature bald eagle, but a shorter bill and a bronze “golden” head, its namesake, are hallmark signs of a golden eagle.

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