Cooperative Golden Eagle Research Project Back In Flight

Monday, January 13, 2014
Wildlife Manager Keith Thomas releases a three-year-old male Golden Eagle that was trapped on Hatfield Knob in the North Cumberland WMA during February of 2013.  The eagle is being tracked and is currently around Green River Lake near Louisville, Ky.
Wildlife Manager Keith Thomas releases a three-year-old male Golden Eagle that was trapped on Hatfield Knob in the North Cumberland WMA during February of 2013. The eagle is being tracked and is currently around Green River Lake near Louisville, Ky.

The TWRA and multiple partners are working together this winter to continue the ongoing study of the Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) in the southern Appalachian Mountains.  The project, in its third year, has successfully documented the presence and distribution of Eastern Golden Eagles as they spend the winter in the region. 

According to TWRA State Ornithologist, Scott Somershoe, the eastern population is currently estimated at 3-4,000 individuals.  The eagles migrate south from their breeding grounds in Quebec, Labrador, and Ontario from mid-October to mid-December and spend the winter in the southern Appalachians until they depart in March and early April.  It during this time period that biologists take the opportunity to study the eagles at various sites throughout the southeastern region.

The project is monitoring four sights in east Tenn. this year: in Roan Mountain State Park in Carter Co., on Unaka Mountain in Unicoi Co., in the Tackett Creek Area of Claiborne Co., and on Hatfield Knob at the North Cumberland WMA.

Monitoring consists of placing cameras that continuously record sites baited with deer carcasses in small openings of heavily forested areas.  The cameras are checked weekly and when an eagle is observed, a rocket-net is used to capture the animal.  Once trapped, biological data is recorded, a transmitter is attached, and the bird is released.

According to Region 4 Wildlife Surveys Manager Chris Ogle, “The project successfully trapped three Golden Eagles last year, which were outfitted with transmitters and released.”  The transmitters collect data with location information, accuracy, speed, and altitude above sea level every 15 minutes.  Data is then sent through cellular towers each morning, when cellular coverage is available. 

The study has produced some other encouraging results: “We have documented Golden Eagles at 11 of 21 different bait sites over the last two winters, suggesting that that Golden Eagles are likely much more common in than previously known,” said Mr. Somershoe.  “Tracking additional individuals from east, middle, and west Tenn. will provide significant information on the origin of Golden Eagles as well as their winter ranges, migration routes, and habitat use, to effectively inform conservation efforts.”

The TWRA is working on the study alongside the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group, The Nature Conservancy, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, West Virginia University, the Ala. Dept. of Conservation and Nat. Resources, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, and Cellular Tracking Technologies.

More information can be found on the Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website at:


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