Environment

After six-months spent summering in the wilds of Canada, the first golden eagle of a breeding pair has returned to wintering grounds at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

Researchers tracked Athena, the female golden eagle, as she flew 1,500 miles on a month-long migration from northern Manitoba.

“One of the most incredible things I’ve learned about these eagles is just how intelligent they are,” said Andrew Berry, Bernheim’s conservation director. “Could you imagine travelling up into northern Canada just from memory?”

Ornithologists in St. Ignace, Michigan, actually witnessed Athena as she passed overhead during her migration south, clocking her airspeed at 54 miles per hour at an altitude of 2,300 feet — they later verified it was her with GPS data.

Upon Athena’s return to the region, she passed through the Crooked Creek Wildlife Corridor to reach Bernheim on Nov. 8 where she perched in the same trees and flew over the same fields and knobs as she has in years’ past.

“She looks like’s settled in and she’s doing some hunting and probably trying to replenish some of those lost calories during her long migration,” Berry said.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

This is the second year Bernheim has tracked Athena using a GPS-solar powered tracker on her back.

Athena’s mate Harper, which Bernheim has tracked since 2015, has not yet returned. Like last year, he’s travelling a separate migratory path than Athena and is currently taking a break from his migration in the hills of western Wisconsin.

In the coming days, researchers expect Harper will head south back to Bernheim to reunite with Athena.

In February, Bernheim recorded what is believed to be the first known breeding pair of golden eagles to be tracked in the United States and possibly the world. Based on that data, Berry believes the pair hatched and raised at least one eaglet.

Berry hopes to learn more about the eagles and their summer in Canada as he parses through the GPS data in the coming months.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.