I was reviewing a riverfront park plan a number of years ago and the community's planner was gushing about the resource values of the site and how the work they planned would "bring back the golden eagle." It's hard to bring back something we don't have, I thought at the time: golden eagles are primarily a Rocky Mountain bird. They don't nest east of the Badlands of western North Dakota.
At the time, everyone was working to bring back the bald eagle, which did nest in the area and has since become an astounding success story. There are 18 active bald eagle nests along the Mississippi River in the Twin Cities corridor this spring. That's down one from 19 last year and up from 14 in 2006.
While golden eagles do migrate through this region, I thought them rare enough that I'd never seen one. Actually, I've probably seen several and mistaken them for immature bald eagles, who don't get their distinctive white head until they're four or five years old.
Golden eagles, it seems, are wintering on the river in this region in increasing numbers. The National Eagle Center in Wabasha started a winter count with trained observers in 2005. That year, they counted 21 golden eagles. In 2006, they counted 29, and in 2007 they spotted 51 golden eagles in the bluff country downriver of the Twin Cities. The 2008 count isn't on the center's website yet, but they do offer information about golden eagles and eagles in general.
Cornell is the place to go when you're interested in birds, and they have a good picture of a golden eagle.