Just ten days apart, a pair of golden eagles have reunited after flying almost 1,700 miles on separate migration routes from the Canadian wilderness to their winter range in Bernheim Forest.
Athena the golden eagle departed from the summer hunting grounds in late October, just a couple of days after her winter companion Harper. She flew southeast along the coast of Lake Superior then down through Michigan, clocking speeds up to 64 miles per hour.
Bernheim Conservation Director Andrew Berry said Athena traveled down toward Fort Knox then used the Crooked Creek Wildlife Corridor to make her way back to Bernheim Forest.
Athena spent the first night alone in Bernheim, but found Harper the next morning — likely after calling to each other. Together, they flew to the top of a knob and sat together, Berry said.
“It was really awesome to see her fly 1,700 miles back to Bernheim and then within 24 hours be able to relocate her companion Harper,” he said.
Researchers at Bernheim Forest outfitted the golden eagles with solar-powered tracking devices to learn more about their habits and migratory patterns.
They’ve been following Harper, a male, with a tracker for the last five years, but this is the first year researchers have collected data on the habits of a pair of eagles. Berry said there is a lot left to learn from the duo.
Researchers tagged Athena earlier this year and watched as the pair took separate migration paths to wind up together in the same area around the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada.
“I think the point that has been a surprise to a lot of us is they are using separate routes to migrate and then coming back together,” he said. “I mean what would lead them to do that?”
In the coming months, Bernheim researchers plan to document the areas where the pair are hunting and roosting together.
They also plan to comb through the data gleaned from the summer spent in Canada in hopes of learning if the two are, in fact, more than just companions.
“I think we can definitely say they are winter companions at this point,” Berry said. “And now that they are back together doing their thing in Bernheim, it will give us a little time to go look back at that summer data and tell the bigger story.”