It was mid-afternoon on a sunny, seasonably cold day. Temperatures were well below zero. I had gone to Crookston for a meeting last week, and I was on my way home when I saw it.

    It was mid-afternoon on a sunny, seasonably cold day.  Temperatures were well below zero.   I had gone to Crookston for a meeting last week, and I was on my way home when I saw it.

    I was a couple of miles from the Marshall County line, and there it was:  a very large, dark bird sitting on a power pole.   I immediately flipped on my turn signal and pulled off the road.   Do I take a look, or take a picture?

    I grabbed my camera and rolled down my car window.

    Vehicles zoomed by.  They were so close my car shook as they passed.   I’d be lucky to get a crisp, clear shot.  

    Click.  Click.  Click.   

    I put down the camera, and grabbed my binoculars.   I watched as school buses, trucks and cars drove by.   The bird leaned forward, lifted its tail and paused to lighten its load.   Then off it flew.   

    I counted the wing-beats as it disappeared to the south… six flaps and a glide.  

    It was a Golden Eagle - a bird I’ve seen only a few times in my life!  I didn’t expect to see one that day on the road to Warren, Minnesota.  

    After all, Golden Eagles are birds of the Rockies, Alaska, the far west and the Arctic.  They’re also found in Europe, Asia, North Africa and Japan.  They’re the national bird of Mexico, Afghanistan, Scotland, Egypt and Germany.

    What are they doing here?   I pulled out my books and looked for the answer.

    One of the first reports of a Golden Eagle in northwestern Minnesota was described in “The Birds of Minnesota” by Thomas Roberts.   On February 4, 1929, James Nelson of Stephen wrote:

    “Quite a few Golden Eagles have been seen here this winter.  It has heretofore been a rare thing to see Eagles in the Valley.  I obtained one specimen and… found the crop to contain about two pounds of rabbit meat.  Those who were out east hunting deer last fall tell me that snowshoe rabbits were very scarce and I am wondering if the Eagles are coming out here on the prairie for food.  We have a lot of jackrabbits here and they of course supply easy food for an Eagle.”

    Over the years there have been enough reports, according to the Minnesota Ornithologists Union, to list Golden Eagles as a “rare,” regular winter visitor in Polk County.        

    I saw my first Golden Eagle near Wabasha, Minnesota in the winter of 2011.   I saw another in Marshall County, a year later, near the Agassiz Valley impoundment.  The last time I saw one, it was just down the road from this very same spot, back in 2014.         

    Where else can you see them in Minnesota?  Hawk watchers counted more than 150 in Duluth during migration last fall.   Birdwatchers in southeastern Minnesota have counted as many as 40-50 in recent winters.     What attracts them?   A winter abundance of their favorite food:  rabbits and hares.

    Telemetry studies also indicate that Golden Eagles have winter territories.  So it’s possible that the bird I spotted recently could be the same individual I saw three years ago.

    They start leaving in March, so now’s a good time to look for them. Stick to the state and county roads.  Check out the power poles near snow-covered CRP and farm     fields.  That’s where they’ll be looking for dinner.  They also feed on road kill.

    Golden Eagles are similar to Bald Eagles in overall size, but Golden Eagles are dark brown (not black) with a golden crown on the back of their head.  Their bill and talons have dark tips.   

    Immature Golden Eagles can be confused with immature Bald Eagles.  Focus on their white feathers.  The white on immature Bald Eagles is mottled, not distinct.  Immature Golden Eagles have white triangles on the underside of their wings and a distinct white band on their tail.

    If you see a Golden Eagle, please call or text (218-745-5663) to let us know when and where.  And call us with questions about birds or other wildlife in Northwestern Minnesota.  Check out the Agassiz Audubon facebook page to see who’s been spotted in our neighborhood.    

    Join Agassiz Audubon at the Godel Library in Warren on Monday, February 27th for a free program on Identifying, Attracting and Feeding Wild Birds.   We’ll show you how to identify our winter birds, how to attract birds this spring, how to minimize backyard wildlife problems and how to get the most for your bird-feeding dollar by selecting the food and feeders that attract the birds you want to see.