A dozen bird species are listed on the Maine endangered species list. Of these twelve, the golden eagle is certainly among the least encountered species on that list.

These magnificent birds, larger than a bald eagle, fortunately are maintaining a stable population globally. They are widely distributed in North America, Europe, Asia, northern Africa and southern portions of Chile. In North America, they nest across Canada and Alaska. These birds are migratory breeders, moving south thousands of miles after nesting.

In northeastern North America, golden eagles nest in Newfoundland, Labrador and Ontario.

We can characterize the abundance of golden eagles in Maine as rare year-round. Perhaps the best time of year see one is in March in the western mountains, when the Labrador and Newfoundland breeders are migrating back to their nesting grounds.

Fall migrants are more common in the western mountains as well, beginning in late September, peaking in late October to November, trailing off in December.

Winter birds occasionally appear but are mostly transient. Sometimes, these eagles are seen in summer, but these days are also transient. We do know that golden eagles once nested in Maine in small numbers. From 1850 to 1950, nesting was reported in Oxford, Piscataquis, Franklin and Somerset counties at higher elevations. The last successful nesting in Maine was in 1984 and the last attempted but failed nesting was in 1996.


Golden eagles are efficient predators, taking mammals and birds primarily. Domestic livestock like chickens and lambs are sometimes on the menu, much to the consternation of farmers.

Like bald eagles, golden eagles will seek out carrion as well. March is a good time to look for goldens where carcasses are available. Five different golden eagles were seen in Warren, Maine, in one year where carrion was available.

The propensity of golden eagles to come to carrion provides a tool for an exciting new program to learn more about golden eagles in Maine. Erynn Call, a wildlife biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, is directing the Maine Golden Eagle Study in collaboration with the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group and Conservation Science Global.

The program is a citizen-science project so you can help in several ways. The most important tool of the study is to use trail cameras to monitor food sources. If a golden eagle finds and feeds on the carrion put out by researchers, the trail camera will snap shots of the eagle and we have a solid record of occurrence.

The food put out can be renderings from slaughtered food animals, road kills (with appropriate permits) or legally killed animals.

Obviously, the more trail cameras placed across the state, the better the information for our understanding of golden eagle distribution.


You can volunteer in several capacities. You can monitor and maintain one or more trail cameras. You can make your land available for others to set up a trail camera. You can provide carrion for other volunteers. You can devote time to looking for golden eagles.

IFW’s web page on the Maine Golden Eagle Study has a very useful link with many photos on how to separate golden eagles from bald eagles. Distinguishing immature birds can be tricky.


The first red-winged blackbirds, common grackles and American woodcocks will arrive back in Maine in early March and the spring migration will be on.

A monarch butterfly rests recently near the Kennebec River in Waterville in August, 2022. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Of course, birds aren’t the only animals that engage in migration in Maine. Many species of dragonflies and butterflies are migratory. Perhaps the best-known insect migrant is the monarch butterfly.

In the fall, monarchs wend their way southward to northwestern Mexico where they overwinter in massive numbers in high-altitude pine forests. Last year, the monarchs occupied only 2.2 acres of forest compared to a high of 45 acres in 1996. Last year’s occupied area is the second lowest on record. A major cause for concern.

Herb Wilson taught ornithology and other biology courses at Colby College. He welcomes reader comments and questions at whwilson@colby.edu

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