Photo of a Golden Eagle in flight

Protecting and recovering species at risk in Ontario

Species at risk recovery is a key part of protecting Ontario’s biodiversity. Biodiversity – the variety of living organisms on Earth – provides us with clean air and water, food, fibre, medicine and other resources that we need to survive.

The Endangered Species Act, 2007 (ESA) is the Government of Ontario’s legislative commitment to protecting and recovering species at risk and their habitats. As soon as a species is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened under the ESA, it is automatically protected from harm or harassment. Also, immediately upon listing, the habitats of endangered and threatened species are protected from damage or destruction.

Under the ESA, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (the Ministry) must ensure that a recovery strategy is prepared for each species that is listed as endangered or threatened. A recovery strategy provides science-based advice to government on what is required to achieve recovery of a species.

Government response statements

Within nine months after a recovery strategy is prepared, the ESA requires the Ministry to publish a statement summarizing the government’s intended actions and priorities in response to the recovery strategy. The recovery strategy for the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in Ontario was completed on March 2, 2015.

The response statement is the government’s policy response to the scientific advice provided in the recovery strategy. All recommendations provided in the recovery strategy were considered and this response statement identifies those that are considered to be appropriate and necessary for the protection and recovery of the species. In addition to the strategy, the response statement is based on input from stakeholders, other jurisdictions, Aboriginal communities and members of the public. It reflects the best available traditional, local and scientific knowledge at this time and may be adapted if new information becomes available. In implementing the actions in the response statement, the ESA allows the Ministry to determine what is feasible, taking into account social and economic factors.

The Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos; Giniw in Ojibway and Mikisiw in Cree) is one of the largest raptors in North America. It has long, broad wings, with a wingspan ranging from 185 to 220 cm and body length ranging from 70 to 84 cm. In adults, the head, body and wings are dark brown, except for a golden crown and nape of the neck.

Moving forward to protect and recover Golden Eagle

The Golden Eagle is listed as an endangered species under the ESA, which protects both the bird and its habitat. The ESA prohibits harm or harassment of the species and damage or destruction of its habitat without authorization. Such authorization would require that conditions established by the Ministry be met.

The Golden Eagle is the most widely distributed of the world’s large eagle species and is found across multiple countries in the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, the Golden Eagle is found predominantly in western North America, but historically, the species was more widespread in the eastern United States and Canada than it is today. The current population in eastern North America is estimated at only a few hundred pairs, and breeding is limited to Manitoba, remote northern areas in Quebec and Ontario, and the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec and Labrador. While not all Golden Eagle populations are migratory, the populations that breed in eastern Canada do migrate and overwinter in the Appalachian mountain region and the Upper Midwest.

The Ontario breeding range of the Golden Eagle is currently limited to remote northern regions of the province such as the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the Severn River drainage in northwestern Ontario. Golden Eagles play an important role in the traditions and culture of Aboriginal people in these areas and across Canada. The breeding population of Golden Eagles in Ontario is currently estimated at 10-20 pairs.

Across North America, the Golden Eagle preys mainly on small to medium-sized mammals including rodents, hares, and rabbits, and to a lesser degree birds. In eastern Canada, Golden Eagles are believed to feed more frequently on birds, including waterfowl, than those in western North America. This has raised questions regarding the potential effects of environmental contaminants, including mercury, on Golden Eagles that feed heavily on predatory waterbirds that are high in the aquatic food chain. Golden Eagles in eastern Canada also feed on carrion such as caribou, moose and deer when prey is scarce. Although hunting migratory game birds with lead shot is banned in North America, bullets used to hunt large game animals, such as moose and deer do contain lead. The level of exposure to lead along with the demographic impact it may pose on Golden Eagles in Ontario is unknown.

Incidental trapping of Golden Eagles in leg hold traps and snares set for furbearing mammals has been documented in North America. The number of incidental captures of Golden Eagles in Ontario is unknown; however, in neighboring Quebec there are reports of two to seven incidental captures per year. The Golden Eagle is also one of several cliff and tree nesting species that is sensitive to human disturbance which can come from a variety of recreational and development activities. Studies have shown that in some cases, 85 percent of Golden Eagle nest losses were a result of human disturbances as the birds will flush from the nest, leaving offspring vulnerable.

Little is known about the abundance of Golden Eagles in Ontario and the extent of the threats they face here given their remote breeding locations in northern Ontario. Potential threats to the species in Ontario include habitat loss, disturbance at nest sites, environmental contaminants, and incidental trapping. Approaches to recovery for the species will focus on filling knowledge gaps related to the distribution, abundance, and potential threats to the species in Ontario and addressing threats through public awareness on how to minimize nest disturbance and reduce incidental trapping.

Government’s recovery goal

The government’s goal for the recovery of the Golden Eagle is to maintain existing populations by allowing for the natural increase of successfully breeding Golden Eagles in Ontario.

Protecting and recovering species at risk is a shared responsibility. No single agency or organization has the knowledge, authority or financial resources to protect and recover all of Ontario’s species at risk. Successful recovery requires inter-governmental co-operation and the involvement of many individuals, organizations and communities.

In developing the government response statement, the Ministry considered what actions are feasible for the government to lead directly and what actions are feasible for the government to support its conservation partners to undertake.

Government-led actions

To help protect and recover the Golden Eagle, the government will directly undertake the following actions:

  • monitor registrations under the Notice of Activity Form and Other Notices under Ontario Regulation 242/08 of the Endangered Species Act, 2007 for any incidental trapping related to Golden Eagle to better understand the extent of this threat in Ontario
  • work jointly with First Nations on community based land use planning teams to consider wildlife, including the Golden Eagle in the Far North of Ontario. The planning teams will also identify where Golden Eagle habitat is located and consider cumulative effects. In addition to wildlife, planning teams will consider other community and broad-scale interests that reflect the complex nature of the ecology, culture and economics of the Far North
  • educate other agencies and authorities involved in planning and environmental assessment processes on the protection requirements under the ESA
  • encourage the submission of Golden Eagle data to the Ministry’s central repository at the Natural Heritage Information Centre
  • undertake communications and outreach to increase public awareness of species at risk in Ontario
  • protect the Golden Eagle and its habitat through the ESA
  • develop direction to provide greater clarity to proponents and partners on the areas of general habitat protected under the ESA for bird species at risk
  • support conservation, agency, municipal and industry partners, and Aboriginal communities and organizations to undertake activities to protect and recover the Golden Eagle. Support will be provided where appropriate through funding, agreements, permits (including conditions) and/or advisory services
  • encourage collaboration, and establish and communicate annual priority actions for government support in order to reduce duplication of efforts

Government-supported actions

The government endorses the following actions as being necessary for the protection and recovery of the Golden Eagle. Actions identified as "high" will be given priority consideration for funding under the ESA. Where reasonable, the government will also consider the priority assigned to these actions when reviewing and issuing authorizations under the Endangered Species Act. Other organizations are encouraged to consider these priorities when developing projects or mitigation plans related to species at risk. The government will focus its support on these high-priority actions over the next five years.

Focus area: Monitoring and research

Objective: Improve knowledge of Golden Eagle nesting locations, population trends, and the significance of threats in Ontario.

Golden Eagles nest in remote northern locations in Ontario. Due to a lack of survey effort and difficulties in surveying, an accurate and current population estimate does not exist. Identifying nesting locations in Ontario and monitoring identified locations will support tracking the species' recovery progress and identifying threats to specific populations. In addition, encouraging the sharing of Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge and species' information between Aboriginal communities and conservation partners, as well as with other jurisdictions, will support a collaborative approach to recovery efforts for the species. Uncertainties exist regarding the potential effects of climate change on Golden Eagles and their habitat in the north. As information is gathered, approaches may be adapted to address any climate change related threats that are identified. The level of risk of activities conducted in close proximity to nest sites, as well as those posed by mercury, lead and other contaminants in Ontario are unknown. A greater level of understanding is required to address these potential threats to Golden Eagles.


  1. (High) Develop and implement standardized methodologies to estimate the breeding population and to survey, monitor and report on Golden Eagle nesting sites.
  2. Coordinate efforts and share information between Aboriginal communities and with additional jurisdictions, including Quebec, Manitoba and partners in the eastern United States, to monitor current populations and increase knowledge of threats faced by Golden Eagles breeding in Ontario.
  3. Determine the levels of sensitivity of Golden Eagles to recreational activities, industry initiatives and development projects occurring near nesting sites in Ontario. Determine the distances at which disturbance of Golden Eagle nesting sites will not occur.
  4. Investigate the extent that environmental contaminants (e.g., lead and mercury poisoning) are impacting Golden Eagles in Ontario and the locations and levels at which these contaminants are impacting the species.

Focus area: Education and outreach

Objective: Increase public awareness and understanding of the Golden Eagle and its habitat in Ontario.

The development and promotion of outreach materials for the Golden Eagle will support greater reporting of the species and support the reduction of human disturbance to nest sites. Cree, Ojibway and Oji-Cree are languages that are frequently spoken in the far north of the province where Golden Eagles breed. Translating relevant communication products into dialects of these languages will support stewardship and recovery efforts in these areas. Working in partnership with trapping groups will facilitate both a better understanding of the extent of incidental trapping and assist in reducing the number of Golden Eagles incidentally trapped in Ontario.


  1. (High) Develop and deliver targeted communication products to promote public awareness of protection, conservation, species' reporting, habitat requirements, and ways to minimize nest disturbance of Golden Eagle in Ontario. Where appropriate, translate documents into dialects of Cree, Ojibway and Oji-Cree.
  2. Work with fur trapping groups in Ontario to promote and implement trapping methods that reduce incidental catch of Golden Eagles and to report any incidental trapping of the species that occurs.

Implementing actions

Financial support for the implementation of actions may be available through the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund, Species at Risk Research Fund for Ontario, or the Species at Risk Farm Incentive Program. Conservation partners are encouraged to discuss project proposals related to the actions in this response statement with the Ministry. The Ministry can also advise if any authorizations under the ESA or other legislation may be required to undertake the project.

Implementation of the actions may be subject to changing priorities across the multitude of species at risk, available resources and the capacity of partners to undertake recovery activities. Where appropriate, the implementation of actions for multiple species will be co-ordinated across government response statements.

Reviewing progress

The ESA requires the Ministry to conduct a review of progress towards protecting and recovering a species not later than five years from the publication of this response statement. The review will help identify if adjustments are needed to achieve the protection and recovery of the Golden Eagle.


We would like to thank all those who participated in the development of the Recovery Strategy for the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in Ontario for their dedication to protecting and recovering species at risk.

For additional information

The government response statement for Golden Eagle is available in PDF format upon request. Please email PDF requests to