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Argos DCS System Use Agreement of the Month
– December 2015

United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Survival, Mortality Sources, Natal Dispersal, Resource Selection, and Ranging of Golden Eagles from the Southern Rockies/Colorado Plateau Region, US


Protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Golden Eagles are increasingly threatened on multiple fronts (e.g., collisions with wind turbines, electrocution on powerlines, lead poisoning), and the scale of several major threats is increasing. A U.S. regulation was promulgated in 2009 that authorized take of the eagle under permit in certain circumstances, yet many key facets of Golden Eagle ecology needed to base such decisions were poorly understood. In 2010 we launched the first of several comprehensive regional studies, employing satellite telemetry, to help address major information gaps.

Objectives of our study are to: 1) determine age-specific survival rates; 2) identify relative importance of various causes of mortality; 3) document natal dispersal distance and behavior; 4) track seasonal movement and inter-population mixing; 5) document seasonal resource selection and validate predictive occurrence models; 6) identify areas of high importance to the species, e.g., winter concentrations; and 7) describe behavior and movement of unsuccessful territorial adults and floaters.

During 2010-2014, we fitted PTTs on 83 nestling Golden Eagles in the Four Corners Region of the southwestern U.S.; 5 of these already reached adult age (5+ years) in 2015. More than 500,000 GPS locations have been collected. Some important findings to date include: 1) 33 migrations by 18 sub-adult eagles to and from summer ranges 400-1200 km north, the first such behavior documented for the species in North America; 2) first-year dispersal characterized primarily by settling 50-120 km from natal areas and high mortality among eagles dispersing >500 km; 3) strong ties between first-year settling location and home range location in subsequent pre-breeding years; 4) starvation/disease during early dispersal and electrocution and collision with power lines as leading mortality factors; 5) substantial widespread, year-round use of prairie dog colonies; and 6) documentation of sub-adult breeding and related behavioral patterns in previous years.

Data from the study are contributing to current meta-analyses of Golden Eagle movement and demography in western North America and for key decision support to manage the species. Data currently are being analyzed and submitted for publication.

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