This is Whitey, the Golden Eagle. He was accidentally caught in a legal trap in southwestern Wisconsin. Discovered by a bow hunter, he was brought to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. From there he was immediately transferred to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota.
With expert care the bird’s leg was eventually repaired. Whitey was then scheduled to be released back into the wild. The National Eagle Center and several public and private agencies all joined together in a partnership to further study wintering golden eagles in the area. To aid the study, satellite transmitters were provided by the Minnesota DNR Non-Game Wildlife Division.
For years there has been speculation as to where the Goldens, who winter in the Mississippi river valley, come from. Do they migrate from their heartland in the mountain west, across the great plains to Minnesota? Or do they come from the far north in Canada. Whitey would provide the answer.
On March 24, 2009, at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, a satellite transmitter was attached to Whitey. He was than brought to the release site near where he had been first trapped in Wisconsin. Then Scott Mehus, education director and Golden Eagle surveyor at the National Eagle Center, threw the bird back into the wild. Whitey took off, landed briefly in some nearby trees and then soared away, "free as a bird."
Golden eagles in North America are primarily found in the Western States and Provinces from Mexico through Alaska. There are also small breeding populations in northern Ontario and Quebec who are know to follow the Atlantic coast south. In Ontario the golden eagle is currently designated Endangered under the province’s Endangered Species Act, while in adjacent Quebec it is a candidate for Threatened or Special Concern status.
Golden eagles do not breed in Minnesota, Iowa or Wisconsin and had not been thought of as regular users of the Mississippi River Valley. In Minnesota there have been occasional reports of Golden Eagles in spring, fall and winter from most countiesRecent surveys started and coordinated by Scott Mehus of the National Eagle Center, and carried out by volunteer observers have uncovered an apparently regular wintering population numbering between 60 – 100 birds using the coulees and bluffs along the Mississippi River from Red Wing, MN to LaCrosse, WI.
A winter population of golden eagles along the Upper Mississippi River raises new and important management questions and challenges. Knowing the breeding origin (or origins) of these birds is of high importance. It is more than likely that these golden eagles breed in Canada and the size of the breeding population in northern Ontario is thought to be small and thus vulnerable. Their habitat use, preferred prey, and home range during the winter are information that will be needed to ensure appropriate management and conservation action in the Mississippi River Valley.
Whitey ended the mystery of where Bluff Countries golden eagles summered. Next I’ll show you how.....