The first images of Athena in her Kentucky winter habitat have confirmed her return to Bernheim Forest. After spending six months in Canada, Athena flew 1,700 miles through familiar territory during her migration. On her trip, she crossed Wapusk National Park, the western edge of Lake Superior, the Driftless area of Wisconsin, and through Indiana to cross the Ohio River, finally reaching her winter destination in the heart of Bernheim Forest.
Upon her return, Athena utilized the same interior habitat of Bernheim as in previous years. She has been observed scavenging and hunting in familiar bottomlands, roosting in the same ridges and trees, and soaring above the same knobs that make up Bernheim Forest. This behavior is well documented both within and outside of Bernheim Forest and is attributed to strong territory preferences and remarkable site fidelity.
Not all is the same as in previous years, however. Last year Bernheim reported that Harper, Athena’s mate, did not return to Bernheim Forest, and likely perished in Canada. Many questions arose from this situation: Will Athena find a new mate? How will they return to the nest site in Canada? Can she defend her winter territory at Bernheim? Images from her time in Bernheim last winter, as well as new images from this year, have begun to shed light on some of these mysteries.
Athena has been observed roosting and cooperatively scavenging with an unknown adult golden eagle, an eagle that could be a newly acquired mate. Golden eagles, like other apex predators, are fiercely territorial and are often adversarial with other golden eagles and large birds of prey. The cooperative behavior displayed by Athena and the unknown golden eagle suggests that they are at least tolerant of one another, and the possibility that they have paired remains.
This development has borne a new batch of unanswered questions: How and where did the eagles meet? Did they migrate to Bernheim together? Could this unknown eagle be an adult offspring of Athena?
Stay tuned as we collect additional images and data that could help unravel this ongoing story.
A special thanks to Beckham Bird Club, Cellular Tracking Technologies, Conservation Science Global Inc., and all the supporters of Birds of Bernheim that make this incredible project possible. The support from Bernheim’s members, volunteers, staff, and donors are what allow us to protect wildlife and steward their habitats.