Golden Eagles in Alabama
Hunters and recreational shooters also contribute to research efforts on wildlife, including tracking golden eagles.
While most Alabamians have been fortunate enough to have seen a bald eagle, which have become fairly common over the last century, few are aware that we have a wintering population of golden eagles. Although golden eagles have a distinct bright gold nape, they are often misidentified as immature bald eagles because both represent our largest birds of prey. Despite the resemblances, golden eagles only occur in Alabama during the winter, preferring forested landscapes and foraging in small forest openings, while bald eagles can be seen year-round often soaring over open fields and water.
Historically, golden eagles have occurred in Alabama but sightings were rare. In 2012, the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (AWFF) Nongame Wildlife Program began monitoring golden eagles using game cameras on some of the wildlife openings on our Wildlife Management Areas. These sites were baited with road-killed deer to provide eagles with the opportunity to scavenge and get photographed. Since 2012, we have acquired over 30,000 eagle photos and captured and tagged 19 golden eagles with cellular transmitters to track their movements. Each year, these eagles make tremendous journeys traveling 1,700 – 2,200 miles from their breeding sites in Canada to their wintering range terminus in Alabama.
Through these research efforts, we have discovered a larger wintering population in Alabama that was previously unknown with data suggesting that Alabama serves as an important overwintering site. The information gathered will help AWFF better manage preferred habitats and the wintering population of golden eagles.
Funding for golden eagle research and monitoring is made possible through the sale of hunting and wildlife heritage licenses, the voluntary Alabama Nongame Wildlife Fund tax check-off, and matching federal funds through excise taxes placed on the sale of arms, ammunition, and archery equipment that are distributed to the states through the Pittman-Robertson Act. In addition, a cooperating partner, The Birmingham Zoo, provided funding for three transmitters placed on golden eagles in January 2020.
For those that do not hunt but would like to contribute to projects such as this, the Wildlife Heritage License was created for you.