Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Golden Eagle - Aquila chrysaetos
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General Comments This very large and powerful raptor -- the largest in the state -- has always had a mysterious presence in the eastern half of North America. Though the Golden Eagle breeds across much of the western half of the continent, breeding in the East has been sporadic, and mainly limited to Canada, but with a few pairs nesting formerly in the northern Appalachians. The species may well have nested on remote cliffs in North Carolina more than 100 years ago, but evidence of nesting is anecdotal, with nothing conclusive. Even through the last few decades, a few sightings of Golden Eagles are made in the mountains in summer, but again, there is nothing to strongly suggest local nesting. Otherwise, the species is rare across the state, mostly in winter. Golden Eagles usually prefer to be near large wintering populations of waterfowl, such as at "coastal" (mainland) refuges, or near extensive farm country in the mountains, where there are livestock. However, a small population winters at mid- to high elevations in the mountains, generally around grassy/shrub balds or small openings within forests. It is one of the few NC species that is more likely to be seen in both the Coastal Plain and the mountains than in the Piedmont.
Breeding Status Former Probable Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status SR
U.S. Status
State Rank SUB,S1N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Migrant and winter visitor. Rare in the vicinity of lakes Mattamuskeet and Pungo and at Alligator River NWR; very rare elsewhere in the Tidewater and northern coastal areas. Casual to very rare elsewhere in the region (southern coast, and farther inland). Mainly from early Nov to mid-Feb; fairly late was one at J. Morgan Futch Game Land (Tyrrell) on 11 Apr 2021. Peak counts: 3, Mattamuskeet NWR CBC, 29 Dec 2009; 2, Mattamuskeet NWR, CBC, 28 Dec 1997.
Piedmont Scarce migrant; about 29 reports. Very rare, mainly in fall and early winter, across the province; a few records May to Jul. Most intriguing is the report of up to three birds on several occasions over Bakers Mountain (Catawba), 10 May - 12 Dec 2003. Local breeding would seem to be out of the question, as there are no remote cliffs in the area, and certainly someone would have spotted such nesting activity. Peak counts: (other than Bakers Mountain), 2 adults near Gibsonville on 16 Feb 2008.
Mountains Scarce winter resident, and also a scarce year-round visitor and migrant. Presently, a rare fall migrant and winter resident, mainly at high elevations (over 4,500 feet) around grassy balds or at mid-elevation (2,500 - 4,500 feet) pastures and openings in forests. Recent surveys by wildlife biologists, using camera traps at deer carcasses, have documented that the species spends the winter over most mountain counties (but is very rare in the southwestern counties). Very rare in spring and summer, again mostly at high elevations; several reports for each month of the year. On a few occasions, birds have been seen flying around cliffs -- potential nesting sites -- but no nesting evidence has been seen. Considering that over the past 20 years there has been thorough survey effort of cliffs for nesting Peregrine Falcons, if eagles were breeding locally, they would not be overlooked. Peak count: 5, Unaka Mountain (Mitchell), 23 Feb 2014; 3, Roan Mountain, 26 May 1985.
Finding Tips Over the years there has been a record of Golden Eagle every few winters in the Lake Mattamuskeet -- Pungo Lake vicinity, where the birds presumably feed on waterfowl. A few recent records have come from Alligator River NWR. The Shining Rock Wilderness in southern Haywood has also had many records in the past 15 years, some of which represented released birds that were hacked in the 1980's. Now that hacking is no longer done in NC, such sightings have declined. Wildlife biologists found that Unaka Mountain in Mitchell, along the TN state line, has been a consistent wintering locale, and it has yielded the highest single-day count of the species. Pond Mountain (Ashe) has also had several recent records.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-13], LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2021-09-03]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.