North Dakota Eagles
On this date in 1917, North Dakotans learned that golden eagles were sighted in the Sheyenne Valley. First noticed in 1915, the eagle population was growing. They were described as unusually large. The Hope Pioneer alerted readers to the eagles, even saying the Sheyenne Valley was becoming “infested” with them.
Golden eagles aren’t as common as bald eagles, but they do inhabit the state. They are brown without the white head of the bald eagle, and the adults have golden heads and feathers on their legs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has documented almost one hundred active golden eagle nests in the state. These are primarily in the west, with the Badlands and Lake Sakakawea key nesting sites. Golden Eagles prefer open grasslands, avoiding areas that are heavily forested. They tend to nest on cliffs or trees like ash and cottonwoods. They have even been known to nest close to the ground or on the ground itself. They will reuse a nest year after year.
Golden eagles are, indeed, large birds. They weigh up to fifteen pounds and average twenty-six to forty inches in length. Their wingspan can reach seven-and-a-half feet. They are often found near prairie dog towns. They also prey on ground squirrels and rabbits, and will go after lambs, owls and waterfowl. They have even been known to kill coyotes! They are opportunistic when it comes to feeding, not above scavenging for a meal when the carcass of a dead animal is convenient.
Today golden eagles face numerous challenges. They may find it harder to hunt as roads, land development, and oil exploration chase out their prey. They are killed in collisions with vehicles and sometimes electrocuted by power lines. Human activity including agriculture and recreation can disrupt nesting eagles, endangering their young.
The birds are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Hope Pioneer. “Many Golden Eagles in State.” Hope ND. 3/8/1917. Page 9.
North Dakota Game and Fish. “Golden Eagle.” https://gf.nd.gov/wildlife/id/raptors/golden-eagle Accessed 2/3/2021.