Golden eagle at the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, 1 Nov 2011 (photo by Michael Lanzone)
In late autumn birders visit the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch, hoping this iconic bird will fly by. On a good day more than 30 golden eagles migrate past the site.
After years of observation we now take for granted that golden eagles use the Allegheny Front as a migration corridor but that wasn’t always the case.
Golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) occur worldwide in the northern hemisphere but their stronghold in North America is in the American West. They’re rarely seen in the East so it was a surprise when people saw so many at the Allegheny Front.
Where were they coming from? Where were they going?
The answers remained a mystery until 2006-2007 when Dr. Todd Katzner, Dr. Trish Miller and Michael Lanzone, fore-runners of the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group (EGEWG), fitted a few eagles with satellite transmitters. The data showed those birds bred in Quebec and spent the winter in the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.
This tantalizing information got a boost when the group upgraded their tracking equipment. Beginning in 2008 most of the birds were fitted with GPS-GSM units that record more frequent data points and transmit over the cell network.
Here’s an EGEWG map from Katzner Lab showing movements of 14 golden eagles, Spring 2012 to Winter 2013. These eagles were fitted with GPS-GSM units. (Solid lines are winter/summer homes; dashed lines are migration.)
Golden eagle movements in eastern North America, satellite telemetry, Spring 2012-Winter 2013, part 2 (map courtesy of Katzner Lab)
Thanks to many years of tracking, we now know that the golden eagles of eastern North America breed in Canada and spend the winter in the southern and central Appalachians. This information, plus on-going research, helps protect the eagles and their habitat.
Click here to view maps at Katzner Lab and find out where the golden eagles go.
(photo by Michael Lanzone, Cellular Tracking Technologies)