Only in Kentucky: Bernheim Forest tracks golden eagle named after bourbon on way to Canada

By Bernheim

Source: The Courier-Journal
By James Bruggers

Arguably Kentucky’s most celebrated golden eagle is headed back to far-north Canada and once again his friends at Bernheim Forest are tracking his progress.

At 40 miles per hour and 3,000 feet up, the raptor known as Harper recently soared over Jefferson Forest and Iroquois Park then turned west to cross into Indiana just south of Rubbertown – avoiding the most popular part of Louisville.

His new transmitter last reported him near Madison, Wisconsin.

Bernheim officials said they’re delighted by the happenstance that allowed them to equip with a new transmitter the very same bird that they first tracked in 2015. In late February, Bernheim and its partners set out to trap another eagle for a new tiny electronic backpack – and the one they got just happened to be Harper.

“We can now compare his movements several years to his movements several years later,” said Mark Wourms, the executive director of the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest just south of Louisville. “We want to know the natural history of these apex predators, of these species that require large forest blocks.”

That can help make people aware of the importance of their stop-over spots, and help protect that migratory route, he said.

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In 2015, the forest led an effort to tag Harper with a radio transmitter and traced his migration 1,500 miles north to the Hudson Bay, a first for a Kentucky golden eagle. The big bird gets his name from a brand of bourbon.

I.W. Harper was first launched in 1872 by German immigrant Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, who later established the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

The public followed Harper’s journey in 2015 on Bernheim’s website and through media accounts. Once again, the public can look for updates on the Bernheim website,

That first effort, though, suffered a setback when the transmitter later malfunctioned and people wondered whether Harper was alive or dead. But he migrated back to Bernheim, where he was seen and recognized by a distinctive leg band.

Golden eagles are not common across Kentucky, or in the east, but some have been wintering in Bernheim Forest for years.

At Bernheim, they find a 24-square-mile block of forest next to a metro area of 1.3 million people. “The benefit of that, beyond all the clean air and clean water and the other wildlife habitats that we protect and steward, is the fact that certain species like the eastern golden eagle absolutely require these kinds of forest blocks,” Wourms said.

The new tracking device collects information on the bird’s location, travel speed and elevation and reports it back to Bernheim via cell phone towers, said Bernheim’s Andrew Berry. Since cell towers are less common in remote areas, they expect to experience lags between data dumps, he said.

The approximately 10-pound bird was equipped with the device on Feb. 22 and flew north on March 9, heading straight for Louisville.

Bernheim was assisted by Tricia Miller and Mike Lanzone with Cellular Tracking Technologies. Like before, the project is supported in part by the Beckham Bird Club of Louisville.

That he avoided the most populous part of Louisville was not a surprise, Berry said. He skirted Chicago in 2015. Berry said he doesn’t seem to like big cities.

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