Golden Eagles and Free Coffee!

You’ve heard of the The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds (The Crossley ID Guides). It is a revolutionary new way to assemble a field guide, where each page has a drawing of what it would look like if suddenly outside your living room there was a full blown habitat for some species of bird, with individuals from that species flying or sitting all over the place in different positions, doing different things, and at different distances. These pages in the field guide almost give you the experience of having seen many of this partiuclar species of bird, like you were suddenly an experienced birder. In preparation for a birding trip, you can prepare by going over the birds you hope to see, and during or after the trip you can use this guide to check your ID’s.

Well, now, there is also the The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. This is the same thing but for Raptors. The book is coming out RIGHT NOW so Princeton has organized a major blogging tour, and right now, you’re on the tour! The other blog posts are as indicated here, on this schedule. I recommend visiting all the other entries. Some of them are giving away prizes, so especially check those out.

As a matter of fact, we’re giving away a prize here, right now, on this blog post, and you may be able to win it. Details are below. But first, a word about ….

… Golden Eagles …

Golden Eagles are a bit of a sore spot with me because they are rare and said to be hard to distinguish from immature Bald Eagles. This is not their fault. But when one claims to have seen a Golden Eagle the automatic reaction among most birders is to claim that you are wrong, that it was an immature Bald Eagle you had seen. This is especially true in Minnesota. If you look at bird books, they are sometimes not shown to be here at all, even as migrants, or otherwise, only rarely.

Stan Tekiela’s Birds of Minnesota Field Guide, Second Edition does not even list Golden Eagles. The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America shows northern and central Minnesota as a migratory route, but the rest of the state is indicated as “rare.” Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin indicates them to be an uncommon migrant or winter visitor in parts of the region. The Birds of North America and Greenland: (Princeton Illustrated Checklists) shows them as occassional winter visitor in only a small area to the West of Minnesota. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, Sixth Edition shows them only rarely in Minnesota, but more in the eastern part of the state. Hawks and Owls of the Great Lakes Region and Eastern North America shows them as an occasional winter species in Minnesota and a very large area of the plains and the eastern US.

The Kaufman Field Guide to Birds Of North America shows them totally absent in the state, but this book also has another interesting geographical observation. There is a huge area of eastern Canada with a dotted line around it indicating that they may or may not breed there. This is an interesting thing about Golden Eagles. When you look into it, you find that there is this large not very mountainous region in which this mountain bird seems to breed, migrate to and from, but is not observed within. Like they were hiding out there. The Birds Of The Great Plains shows them rare in Minnesota and more common to the west than the east.

Of course, one always wants to consult the bible in these matters. The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America (Peterson Field Guides) shows them totally absent in Minnesota, but also indicates the big mysterious region to the north where they may or may not breed.

Now that we’ve established that there is no agreement whatsoever on the distribution of, timing of, or even existence of, the Golden Eagle in Minnesota, let me tell you about two of our sightings of the bird (there’s been a few but these two are particularly interesting).

The firs sighting was about 10 years ago. Julia was about seven, and we were visiting the Minnesota Raptor Center in Falcon Heights. We were being given a tour of the cages, where various raptors were kept. These birds were all rescued from somewhere, generally with injuries. Some would be rehabilitated and released. Some would become ambassador birds, traveling around the area with experts from the Raptor Center for educational purposes. Some would simply remain in the cages forever.

As the tour progressed, the tour guide would say a few things about each bird as we approached the cage, then we would look at the bird for a while, then move on to the next cage. At once point, she said, “And here is the Golden Eagle. There are no Golden Eagles in Minnesota, not at all. If you ever think you are seeing a Golden Eagle, I assure you that it is merely an immature Bald Eagle. There are no Golden Eagles in this state.”

Then, as we stopped in front of the cage to look at the bird, Julia pointed to it and said, “There’s one!”

“What?” the guid said.

“There’s a Golden Eagle. It’s in Minnesota. So you’re wrong.”

I was fully expecting to find, on further inquiry, that this particular bird had been found injured along the highway in some other state and brought here to the Minnesota Raptor Center for treatment. So, I asked, “Where is this bird from?”

We were given a very precise location, along a road near a particular town. In Minnesota. In fact, within a one hour drive from where the bird was sitting in the cage. So, there you go.

The second sighting was up at the cabin. It was early fall and we were sitting on the deck overlooking the lake, to the north. Although we were located a short distance outside the Chippewa National Forest, which is known to have the highest number and highest density of Bald Eagles in the US outside of Alaska, the tree line across the lake was in the forest proper, and in fact, this was an excellent place to see bald eagles. A nesting pair lived in sight just a few hundred yards to the left, and hunted in this bay. Sometimes other eagles came by, and the pair often had a young one. If you want to see a bald eagle from that spot, all you had to do is look. If the eagle was not visible that instance, all you had to do was listen and you’d hear either the eagles themselves or some other bird complaining about the eagles. Indeed, that is the main reason for the local loons to holler. If you hear the loon going loony just look up. There will be one or two bald eagles reeling at altitude over the loon, sharing the fishing grounds.

Anyway, we were sitting there looking north when suddenly there appeared over the tree line to the north, across the lake, a bird that was clearly a very large eagle, and it was flapping its wings in powered flight going in a straight line right for us. We knew it was an eagle because of its shape and size. However, it was significantly larger looking than any of the bald eagles in the area. I should note that despite the large number and high density of eagles in Chippewa Forest, these Bald Eagles are smaller than the Alaskan kind. But this bird was whopping big.

Also, it was flying funny. Not only was it not soaring as eagles tend to do, it was flapping its wings in what looked like an unusual pattern. And, it was not a bald eagle. As it got closer, we watched it with binoculars and could see the field markings very clearly.

“That was a Golden Eagle, wasn’t it?” I said to Amanda.

“I guess so,” she replied.

“You could see a bit of white on the upper wings before it came over us.”

“Yeah, I saw that. You could see white on its tail shinning through with the sun.”

“It had a small head.”

“And a smaller bill.”

“I know, and that color was different than an immature Bald Eagle.”

“When it stopped flapping for a while its wings almost looked like a vulture.”

“I know. All the field markings seem to suggest a Golden Eagle, not an immature Bald Eagle.”

“Yeah, and you know what,” Amanda said.


“We know what an immature Bald Eagle looks like. That wasn’t one of them.”

And now it’s your turn. The following illustration shows several raptors. Each is labeled with a letter. Some of these raptors are Golden Eagles, some are not.


Your job is to identify the Golden Eagles. Put a set of letters that represent only Golden Eagles in a comment. I will collect all the perfectly correct answers and send them to Price Waterhouse in a briefcase, where one of the correct answers will be randomly selected.

If you use a proper email address when you sign in to comment, then I’ll be able to contact you if you are chosen. Otherwise I’ll just mark the correct and chosen comment here on this blog and you can check back later, and if you were the winner we’ll work out how to send you your prize, provided by Princeton University Press.

The prize will be two pounds of Birds and Beans Coffee! It will be sent to you by the good people of Princeton.

Also note that Princeton has a contest in which you can win a pair of Nikon 8220 Trailblazer 8x42 ATB Binoculars and some autographed bird books. Details are HERE.

Happy Birding!


We'll pick the winner on April 1st.

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I have seen Golden Eagles here in Saskatchewan, the problem I usually have isn't so much distinguishing them from Bald Eagles but from the big Buteos, especially Red-tailed Hawks and Swainson's Hawks. In the summer, there are many large raptors around, often flying up suddenly from roadside ditches when a car drives past.

None of the big raptors I see are particularly fond of getting photographed.

My guess for the Golden Eagle Identity Challenge: A,C,E,H,I

By TheBrummell (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink


By Jerry Marmon (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

Golden Eagles are rare in most of Minnesota, mostly from late fall through early spring. However there are several places to go where you can improve your chances of finding one (or more). Whitewater Wildlife Management Area (from Weaver to Elba, Winona Co.) is one good place. Houston County blufflands are also good. Several Golden Eagles have been fitted with satellite transmitters and are being tracked in these and other areas; check the National Eagle Center’s (Wabasha) website for more information. However, the best place is Hawk Ridge, Duluth, in late autumn. Hawk Ridge raptor counters (counting all raptors daily during daylight hours) totaled 211 Golden Eagles migrating past the ridge in autumn 2012; most (150) were in November. More than 10 were counted on several days last fall, with a peak of 57 (a record single-day total) on Nov. 12. Check the Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory’s website for details. To find one this spring, go out now as they are mostly gone from Minnesota by early April (they do not breed here).

By Bruce Fall (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink

We saw a Golden Eagle in the Vancouver region one year. Have good pictures of it too, sitting in a naked poplar by the river near the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. People came from all over looking for it once it hit the hotline.

About 4 years later a local bird expert was fielding questions on eagles at a Q&A site. He said flatly, "you won't see Golden Eagles here. They're all immature Bald Eagles". Two days later he humbly retracted his comment and told people they could stop sending him emails and pictures of various Golden Eagles spotted in the lower mainland.

By the way, don't drink coffee so no point in trying for that prize (except to show off :-). But I did attempt the nemesis bird one, and will enter for the Nikon one.

By Dan J. Andrews (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink


By Chris Bortz (not verified) on 19 Mar 2013 #permalink


By David Swain (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

A, C, E, H, I

By Kurt Helf (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink


By David Wade (not verified) on 20 Mar 2013 #permalink

A, C, H, I

Pretty sure I saw a golden eagle sitting by my fire pit for quite awhile, then flew off. We have bald eagles and I know what the juvenile one look like. The one I saw was huge and I'm quite sure not a bald eagle.

By Mary mcwethy (not verified) on 14 Aug 2014 #permalink