Interpreting long-distance movements of non-migratory golden eagles: Prospecting and nomadism?

By: , and 



Movements by animals can serve different functions and occur over a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Routine movement types, such as residency (localized movements) and migration, have been well studied. However, nonroutine movement types, such as dispersal, prospecting, and nomadism, are less well understood. Documenting these rarely detected events requires tracking large numbers of individuals across all age classes. We studied >500 golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) tracked by telemetry over a 10-year period in western North America, of which 160 engaged in nonroutine, long-distance (>300 km) movements. We identified spatial and temporal correlates of those movements at both small and large scales, and we quantified movement timing and direction. We further tested which age and sex classes of eagles were more likely to engage in these movements. Our analysis of 88,093 daily tracks suggested that distances traveled by eagles were responsive to the updraft potential of the spatial and temporal landscape they encountered. Tracks covered longer distances at locations and times of higher updraft potential, and older birds traveled farther than younger birds. By contrast, after decomposing daily tracks into 563 nonroutine, long-distance movements measured at a multiday scale, only the duration of travel was responsive to environmental conditions encountered by eagles. Multiday trips that were longer were those initiated in open and warm landscapes and those that ended in mountainous regions. Finally, long-distance movements were more frequently made in seasons other than winter, in north–south directions, and by young birds. We documented clear correlates of nonroutine, long-distance movements by golden eagles at small, local scales but found little evidence of such correlates at larger, regional scales. Most long-distance movements we documented fit patterns associated with traditional definitions of prospecting and nomadism but not migration. Our study is the first to describe these movement types by golden eagles, and as such provides a foundation for subsequent study into the movement ecology of other species.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Interpreting long-distance movements of non-migratory golden eagles: Prospecting and nomadism?
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4072
Volume 13
Issue 6
Year Published 2022
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, Western Ecological Research Center
Description e4072, 17 p.
Country Canada, Mexico, United States
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