Golden Eagles make their winter return to Bernheim Forest

By Amy Joseph Landon

Source: The Pioneer News
December 7, 2020

CLERMONT —  The two rare and majestic golden eagles who winter at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest are back home after spending their summer in the cool wilderness of Manitoba, Canada.

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Harper, the male golden eagle, returned on November 23. His 40-day migration was longer than that of his female companion, Athena, who returned on November 8, but their end destination at Bernheim was the same.

With every migration, Bernheim and the world learn more and more about the habits of golden eagles, said Bernheim Director of Conservation Andrew Berry.

“First and foremost it underscores the importance of large protected areas for the apex predator both in summer and winter,” Berry said. “Without the shelter and food afforded by these rugged areas and forested expanses along their migration routes, these eagles might very well not be able to make it back and forth every year.”

Harper and Athena spent the winter of 2019/2020 at Bernheim, where the tracking devices noted them roosting together, hunting and feeding together, and defending territory. The golden eagles began their spring migration heading north in March 2020, departing within a week of each other.  As with previous years, the two eagles choose separate paths for their migrations to and from their summer territory in Manitoba.

This year, Harper spent an extra 17 days in Wisconsin on his way back to Bernheim, most likely resting and refueling before the next leg of his flight which takes him over 400 miles of unfriendly midwestern agricultural land.

Athena took exactly one month to complete the 1,500 mile migration and her route took her through the Great Lakes of Michigan and Indiana.

By comparing Bernheim’s data to reports from the ornithologists who monitor bird migrations at Mackinac Straights Raptor Watch, officials were able to tell that at one point, she was flying 54 miles per hour at a height of 2,300 feet.

Bernheim officials have been tracking Harper for six years, and he is named after Bernheim founder Isaac W. Bernheim’s bourbon brand, I.W. Harper. Bernheim started tracking Athena in early 2019, and she is named for the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage and inspiration. Both names were chosen by the public by popular vote.

The research project tracking golden eagles at Bernheim, in partnership with Cellular Tracking Technologies and Conservation Science Global, has been in progress for more than a decade. Researchers were excited to learn last year that Harper and Athena are a breeding pair of golden eagles.

Berry also credited the Beckham Bird Club, Mackinac Straights Raptor Watch, and all the supporters of bird research at Bernheim who help to make this project possible.

The public can follow the golden eagle research project at  Regular updates will be made as Bernheim’s team follows the journey of the two eagles.

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