Nelson, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin DNR is planning to strap small
GPS units on golden eagles over the next three years to see where
the birds go when they migrate from western Wisconsin and eastern
The golden eagle is mostly a western bird and is plentiful from
the Dakotas west to the Pacific Ocean. The national bird of Mexico,
it also lives in northern Ontario, where it’s listed as a species
Though it’s not unusual to see one in Wisconsin, the prevailing
wisdom used to be that there weren’t many here.
But a one-day census last month by 100 trained volunteers
counted 70 in western Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota and northern
Iowa, including 50 seen in Wisconsin’s Buffalo County.
Last year’s one-day census of the same area tallied 37 golden
eagles, including 31 in Wisconsin.
“We assume these birds are probably coming from northern
Ontario, and this (GPS) device will tell us if that’s true,” said
Scott Mehus, education program specialist at the National Eagle
Center in nearby Wabasha, Minn.
He added that it’s possible more golden eagles are being counted
because officials are now noticing them. “Plus, we can learn more
about where they’re going while they’re here and their daily
The Wisconsin DNR has issued trapping permits and provided staff
to monitor the trapping sites in the state. The goal is to trap and
track two golden eagles per year for the next three years.
So far, no golden eagles have been fitted with the GPS units. If
none are captured, Mehus said a golden eagle accidentally caught
last fall in a coyote trap in Buffalo County, now recovering from
puncture wounds at the University of Minnesota, will be fitted with
a GPS unit. It will then be returned to the wild next month.
The Mississippi River is a haven for bald eagles during the
winter since this stretch never ices over and the birds can catch
plenty of fish. In the one-day census last month when 70 golden
eagles were sighted, 390 bald eagles also were counted.
While much research has been done on golden eagles elsewhere in
the United States, very little is known about them in the
Mississippi River Valley.
Few golden eagles are seen deeper into Minnesota or Wisconsin,
away from the Mississippi River region. For whatever reason, the
birds are choosing to stay here from mid- to late October until
“We want to know how they’re using the Mississippi River Valley
during the winter, what their habitat choices are _ are they
staying in one place or wandering around _ and we need to know that
to manage them on both sides of the river,” said Mark Martell,
director of bird conservation for Audubon Minnesota, who is helping
with trapping efforts.
Wildlife biologists also want to know where they’re going to
breed and the route they’re taking to their nesting sites.
Mehus and Martell suspect the golden eagles spending their
winters in Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota are probably from
Canada. One reason: Mehus said it’s common for golden eagles in the
western U.S. to perch on telephone poles but in 14 years of working
in eastern Minnesota, he’s seen only one golden eagle do that.
With whatever information they find on the eagles’ winter sites,
officials hope to preserve the habitat.
The $3,700 GPS units are provided by the Minnesota DNR, along
with funding from private sources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service. Satellite time to track the golden eagles will cost $1,500
per bird each year.
Biologists hope the GPS units, which weigh about 3 ounces, will
stay in operation for four to five years.