The 2019 journey of golden eagles, Harper and Athena

By Andrew Berry

Harper and Athena at Bernheim – January, 2020

2019 was a busy year at Bernheim. From the Forest Giants to fighting a natural gas pipeline to expanding focus on our conservation efforts, it was a pivotal year for new directions in Bernheim Forest. Research around the birds of Bernheim took a leap as we continued to partner with Cellular Tracking Technologies to track songbirds and a second golden eagle, a female we call Athena, in addition to the long-studied Harper. As we enter 2020, we have collected almost one year of data on these two golden eagles’ time together. We know they spend the winter together in Bernheim, migrate separately into Canada in March, and return to Bernheim separately in November. As we head into the new year, we will start to share the story of what happened during nesting season 2019 when they arrived in Canada.

Before we soar headlong into the narrative of the nesting season, let’s get a quick update: Harper and Athena are still hanging together in the interior knobs of Bernheim. As of January 22, 2020, they are using many of their preferred roosts and staying within the interior sections of Bernheim. They mainly stayed tucked into the forested hollows during recent heavy rains and winds; they will soar and travel throughout the knobs during clear skies.

A third golden eagle was spotted with Harper and Athena several times.

Several times in December, we observed with another golden eagle, possibly a female judging by the size, spending time with Harper and Athena. These interactions are fleeting glimpses, but on one occasion these eagles were seen to be perched together in a seemingly non-threatening manner. The nature of their interactions is of interest, as we want to understand how many eagles are using Bernheim and how their ranges may overlap. So far, we calculate that Athena and Harper’s winter range has covered approximately 7,000 acres, with 4000 acres being the core and most utilized. As in other years, we are seeing other golden eagles within this area, suggesting this large forest habitat in Bernheim is critically important as a winter range for eastern golden eagles.

Tracking this pair as they traveled separately and then reunited in Bernheim was very informative in understanding migrations of golden eagles. Just as the migration back to Bernheim during November 2019 was incredible to follow, the migration and nesting seasons in spring and summer 2019 were full of revelations into the mystery of golden eagles. Because of the eagles’ remote location in the Canadian wilderness, we did not receive any cellular data until November as they flew south towards the United States, and we are just now able to piece together their habits. It turned out to be a lot to process and interpret, so we took our time in trying to understand what happened last summer in Canada.

Click here for the complete timeline of their activities, beginning in April, 2019 as they left Bernheim.

Stay tuned as we continue to investigate the lives of a nesting pair of eastern golden eagles during 2019. During our next installment, we’ll look at what happened during May and June as the nesting season was underway.

Thank you for your continued interest in Bernheim, and for the incredible efforts we receive from our sponsors, Beckham Bird Club, and the numerous private donors to the Birds of Bernheim project. We could not do this without your support!

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