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Golden Eagle (Aquila chysaetos)

April 22, 2022

The golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) is commonly recognized as an indicator of ecosystem health and was selected as an important indicator species for the ecological health of lands owned and managed by East Bay Stewardship Network (Network) partner agencies within the area of focus for this project (See map, Chapter 1). Based on national conservation goals and past and current golden eagle research in the area of focus, the desired condition and trend for this indicator species are to: (1) maintain or improve site occupancy by territorial pairs (i.e., the proportion of sites surveyed with at least 1 pair of eagles), (2) maximize reproductive rate (i.e., the proportion of sites surveyed with at least 1 pair of productive eagles), and (3) minimize the occurrence of territorial subadults in the local breeding population. The condition and trend in these three primary metrics were assessed for golden eagles in the area of focus using data from a large-scale demographic study conducted in 2014–2021 by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and others. Overall, we found a condition of “caution” and an “unchanging” trend for golden eagles in the area of focus. Analyses of site occupancy and reproductive rate indicated that the local breeding population was unchanging (i.e., no evidence of increasing or decreasing time trends in these metrics during 2014–2021). However, a consistently high occurrence of territorial subadults (22%–35%) has been observed at breeding territories near the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area (APWRA) relative to occupied territories monitored in surrounding regions (~3%). The heightened occurrence of territorial subadults suggested a possible increase in the adult mortality rate of territorial eagles occupying the Mt. Diablo Range and Mt. Hamilton subregions in the area of focus. Thus, although no trends were detected in site occupancy or reproductive rate, caution is warranted given the high observed frequency of territorial subadults, which was predominately associated with pairs monitored near the APWRA. The USGS golden eagle study was conducted during a period of prolonged and severe drought in the area of focus, which has been shown elsewhere to reduce the reproductive rate of golden eagles. Although we detected no trends in reproductive rate, we identified a condition of “caution” for this metric in the area of focus given that annual estimates were relatively low during the study period, which primarily included years of severe drought conditions in west-central California. A primary goal of the analysis was to provide a benchmark against which managers can measure future changes and understand the likely trajectory of this species. Baseline data and analyses provided here can be used to identify projects that could help support golden eagle conservation. Given the constraint of using only existing and available data, this evaluation also identified areas where not enough was known to draw meaningful conclusions. Gaps in our understanding include the long-term effects of repeated, extreme climate events (e.g., drought and wildfire) on golden eagle demographics and population sustainability, refined estimates of eagle survivorship and sources of mortality, and whether the APWRA represents a population sink for golden eagles within the northern Diablo Range and surrounding regions. These are described as data gaps at the end of this chapter and may be areas to focus on for future research and collaborations among land managers.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Golden Eagle (Aquila chysaetos)
Authors David Wiens, Patrick Kolar, Douglas A. Bell
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 70232211
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center