Millennium and Elm Lick Trails are closed today due to heat advisory.

Winter Raptor Season in Full Swing

By Andrew Berry

As mid- January approaches, we begin the peak of winter raptor season at Bernheim. To celebrate, we will be presenting our annual ‘Golden Eagles of Bernheim’ on January 28, 2022, at noon as a part of our new virtual program series, Savor the Season: Embracing Winter at Bernheim. This presentation will cover background on golden eagle research at Bernheim and beyond, as well as in-depth discussion about their conservation status and value. We will likely discuss the disappearance of Harper and the latest on Athena’s winter in the knobs. The presentation will include exclusive maps and images and take questions from attendees about all things related to golden eagles. We also have a ‘Hidden Wildlife of Bernheim’ presentation on February 11 at noon.

Winter is in full swing in Bernheim’s Natural Areas. Northern harriers are being spotted coursing over open fields, and numerous red-tailed hawks seem to be perched along every field edge you look. Many other animals are busy this time of year, including coyotes and bobcats that are in breeding season right now. Bald eagle sightings have been steady around Bernheim and central Kentucky this year. With a careful eye, look for bald eagles soaring around Bernheim Arboretum and throughout the Bluegrass State on clear days, particularly near large lakes, streams, and rivers.

The regularity of sightings for bald eagles is the new normal during winter months when the total number of bald eagles in Kentucky peaks with the addition of northern migrants. These migrant bald eagles move south from the Great Lakes and Canada to escape frozen terrain and will begin to head back north with the arrival of spring. We counted as many as seven bald eagles in Bernheim a few weeks back, including five juveniles and two adults.

Golden eagles that migrate south towards Bernheim also reach their peak numbers during January and February. Last update we told you about Harper, the male golden eagle, likely having perished in the wilds of Canada. Athena, his female mate, migrated back to Bernheim in November and has spent more time on the move this winter. Without her mate to help defend territory, Athena has been roaming widely throughout the large forests in the knobs around Bernheim. Her travels may be partly due to hunting requirements, but also may be ‘excursionist’ behavior that is intended to find a new mate.

There have been several ‘new’ golden eagles in the area. While it is hard to say for sure if they are new to Bernheim, they do appear to be adults we have not documented before. One large mature golden eagle had a leg band located on the left foot, the opposite foot of either Harper or Athena. Another beautiful mature golden had no leg band and was spotted in a section of Bernheim further away from Athena’s preferred roosts. As many as two juvenile golden eagles have been seen, one looking like possibly a four-year-old just about ready for adulthood.

Stay tuned as there is about two months of winter left before Athena heads north. During our presentation on January 28, we will speculate about what might happen during her spring migration, and what some of these other eagles may be doing come spring.

A special thanks to Mackinac Straits Raptor WatchBeckham Bird ClubCellular Tracking TechnologiesConservation 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.

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