Stahlecker, D.W., Z.P. Wallace, D.G. Mikesic, C.W. Boal, R.K. Murphy, W.H. Howe, and M.B. Ruehmann. 2022. Golden Eagle Breeding Distribution in Wind Energy Landscapes of the Southern Great Plains. Journal of Raptor Research 54:1-11.
Abstract.–– Deaths of four Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) due to collision trauma at a new wind energy facility in east central New Mexico during 2004–2005 prompted concerns about the species’ population status in the encompassing Southern Great Plains region, primarily because its breeding distribution there was poorly documented and wind energy was expanding. Therefore, we conducted aerial searches for Golden Eagle nests across northeastern New Mexico, northwestern Texas and western Oklahoma, and adjacent portions of Colorado and Kansas during 2006–2009 and 2015–2020. We delineated five Golden Eagle Nest Search Areas (NSAs) with unique physiographic/geological origins. Individual NSAs were searched partly or entirely for up to 8 yr. Collectively, we identified 123 breeding areas (BAs) occupied by Golden Eagles ≥1 yr, 95 (77.2%) of which were in northeastern New Mexico. The most BAs (40) were in the 11,720-km2 Highlands NSA. Greatest BA density (126.6 km2/BA) and shortest BA nearest neighbor distance (7.4 km) were in the 3,533-km2 Northern Caprock NSA. Wind energy was developing rapidly in the region. Wind turbines existed near (within 3.2 km) 21 nests distributed among six of 28 BAs in the Northern Caprock and were planned for siting near another BA. Elsewhere, only planned turbines were near nests and only within six BAs. Our findings indicate that the Southern Great Plains supports many Golden Eagle pairs at the eastern margin of the species’ breeding range in western North America. Our data provide a solid basis for protecting breeding habitat from potential threats, particularly those posed by wind and fossil-fuel energy development, and provides a foundation for long-term population monitoring.