Golden find: Rare eagle tracked in Georgia
Devil’s Backbone Hunting Club members didn’t know their middle Georgia lease had golden eagles. But two days after putting out road-killed deer as bait in a project studying the continent’s largest raptors, one showed up on camera.
“Would you believe it?” writes club president Jodi Killen.
Few might have in a state where you can count the golden eagle sightings each year on one hand.
One of possibly as many as four golden eagles visiting the bait and blind site set up by the club was trapped and now wears a device that transmits the 5-year-old bird’s location, elevation and speed every 15 minutes (watch the release). Nongame Program Manager Jim Ozier has a second transmitter, also paid with a TERN grant, if another eagle is caught at the site near Sprewell Bluff Wildlife Management Area next winter. The area features a mix of rugged mountains and open woodlands, apparently prime habitat for golden eagles.
The Devil’s Backbone eagle is the first from Georgia tracked in an effort that has documented eastern North America’s golden eagles and their migration routes since 2006. The work has branched out from Pennsylvania into states as far south as Alabama, and into scores of camera “traps” that photograph golden eagle visits and, as of last year, tracked about 30 birds bearing phone-sized transmitters that link with the nearest cell tower.
Initially aimed at exploring threats that wind turbine sites pose to the birds, the project is providing details about golden eagles that migrate from Canada – including the revelation that not all follow Appalachian Mountain ridges. Some cut through the Midwest, according to project leader Dr. Tricia Miller of West Virginia University.
Ozier said findings “will help us figure out what habitats they’re using and what migratory paths.”
Eagle insights …
- “We tend to think of them as the ghosts of the eastern forests,” Tricia Miller said, referring to golden eagles’ preference in eastern North America for high-altitude forests. (See also “Golden eagle winters in northwest Georgia forests.”)
- While golden eagles are more common west of the Mississippi, they’re also found in Mexico, Asia, Europe and northern Africa.
- Blood samples from the eagle caught Feb. 15 at Devil’s Backbone revealed the lowest lead levels Miller has seen in a golden eagle. Raptors can be poisoned by eating carrion killed by lead shot.
- A fresh bait pile is key for attracting the eagles. The club picked up about 30 deer, networking with Klaus and local law enforcement, including Georgia State Patrol Post 34 in Manchester, to find new road kills.
- Before dawn Feb. 15, Killen was rushing to get to the club to meet the trappers. A police officer stopped him and asked why he was driving fast. Killen told him. The officer – who had heard about the project – replied, “Consider this a warning. Good luck catching ’em!”