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Love is in the air for Bernheim’s Golden Eagles Harper and Athena!

By bernheim

The two are officially a breeding pair – the first ever to be tracked in the eastern United States

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Bernheim Forest’s researchers have confirmed that the golden eagles that winter at Bernheim are a breeding pair – and are likely new parents too!

For the past five years, Bernheim has had the privilege of tracking Harper, a male golden eagle who calls Bernheim home in the winter months. In 2019 Bernheim began tracking Athena, a female who was identified as a companion of Harper. Researchers at Bernheim  outfitted Harper and Athena with solar-powered GPS tracking devices to learn more about their habits and migratory patterns. This research revealed the pair’s separate migration routes and the exciting discovery that Harper and Athena are a breeding pair. This makes these two golden eagles the first pair to be tracked in the eastern United States. As of January 27, 2020, this pair had transmitted one full year of GPS data, creating a wealth of information about their interactions and movements.

Harper and Athena migrated separately from Bernheim Forest to northern Manitoba in the spring of 2019. Harper traveled west of Lake Superior through Duluth, Minnesota, and Athena flew east of Lake Superior through Michigan. Bernheim’s tracking showed them reuniting together at their destination in the Hudson Bay lowlands. The eagles are believed to use a variety of factors to help them navigate with precision, including the earth’s magnetic field, genetic cues, sunlight, landforms, and other cognitive powers. The new information on golden eagle behavior discovered from this project includes migration and nesting pair behavior that is both scientifically and culturally fascinating.

Data from late spring through summer of 2019 confirmed that the duo is more than just winter companions. Research indicates the golden eagle pair nested together in Canada. They reunited within two hours of arrival at their previous nest site in northern Manitoba. Then on April 25th, data showed the first indication that an egg had been laid when Harper stayed on the nest while Athena took a short flight. While eagles are nesting, both partners take turns keeping the egg warm. In early June, data indicated that an egg had hatched, as Athena remained on the nest for six days while Harper continued to hunt and return with food. For several months Athena continued to spend most of her time at the nest, while Harper spent much of his time hunting. By August, Athena had begun to travel widely, hunting and bringing food back to the nest.

After spending six months in Canada, these eagles began migrating south in October, again on separate paths, with full intentions of arriving back in Bernheim. Both birds traveled an astonishing 1,700 miles to reunite and spend winter together in the interior forests of Bernheim.

Bernheim Forest is holding a series of events to educate the public on the magnificent raptors that reside in its large forest block. In honor of Harper and Athena, Bernheim’s Eagle Week runs from Feb. 17 – 21, and features a number of eagle-related events including The Golden Eagle Lecture on Friday, Feb. 21 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. Bernheim will host a brown-bag lunch lecture on all things golden eagle at the Visitor Center. This presentation will include a discussion of Bernheim’s past five years of golden eagle research including the complete year of tracking Harper and Athena; touching on information learned from their migrations, their winter range, and activity last summer in Canada. Topics will also include information on the human history with golden eagles and details on Bernheim’s bird research, including the newly installed Motus bird tracking system, which tracks songbirds on their annual migrations.

No registration is necessary and seating will be available on a first come, first served basis. Participants can bring their own lunch or purchase a fresh, delicious meal from our own Isaac’s Café, located inside the Visitor Center.

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