Reported by Joe Barnes
“The Golden Eagle inhabits a wide range of latitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere and uses a variety of habitats ranging from arctic to desert. Rare in the eastern half of North America, it is most common in the West near open spaces that provide hunting habitat and often near cliffs that supply nesting sites. Northern breeders migrate thousands of kilometers to wintering grounds; southern pairs tend to be resident year-round. As one of North America’s largest predatory birds, this eagle has been prominent in human lore and culture, inspiring awe, reverence, and sometimes fear and hatred. Humans kill Golden Eagles both intentionally and accidentally by trapping, shooting, poisoning, and electrocution; at the same time, urbanization, agricultural development, and wildfires encroach on this eagle’s traditional shrub-steppe foraging habitat. The species persists, but some U.S. nesting populations may be declining. In the twenty first century, humans will determine the fate of this species and its habitat.
The Golden Eagle has astonishing speed and maneuverability for its size and uses a wide variety of hunting techniques to capture prey, including soaring, still-hunting from a perch, and low contouring flight. Although capable of killing large prey such as cranes, wild ungulates, and domestic livestock, this species subsists primarily on rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, and prairie dogs. Most do not acquire a nesting territory until they are at least 4 years old, after they have molted into Definitive plumage. Once an individual establishes a territory, it tends to stay there, defending an area of approximately 20–30 square kilometers from conspecifics. A territory may contain up to 14 nests, which a pair maintains and repairs as part of their courtship.”
Joe Barnes is the southern Nevada regional supervisor at the Nevada Department of Wildlife. He grew up in Ohio, where he received a B.S. in biology from Baldwin-Wallace University. After completing his undergraduate studies, he worked for several years as a high-seas fisheries biologist in Alaska, Hawaii, and Japan.
He moved to southern Nevada in 2004, where he began a long-term monitoring project looking at migration trends of aquatic birds as well as a seven year field study of Peregrine Falcons breeding near Lake Mead. His work with peregrines led to a M.S. degree with an emphasis in ecology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 2011. For his thesis, he studied a resident breeding population of peregrines while conducting prey and habitat-use analyses, and developed a new call-broadcast survey approach. After finishing his graduate studies, he worked on several targeted research projects looking at Golden Eagle habitat-use in relation to renewable energy projects throughout the southwest U.S. and Mexico. Most recently, Joe has been looking closely at mercury contamination in various raptor species with an emphasis on peregrines.