The Capture of Golden Eagle #A20
by Peter Nye, Craig Thompson and Kathy Michell

February, 16 2002

"Winter" has been tough here in New York this year. "Tough" in terms of way too mild and way too much open water, which translates to eagles spread out all over versus concentrated in a few areas, and also eagles which are not food-stressed and thus hard to attract to bait for trapping. Tough for us biologists, good for the eagles!

This year in New York, we wanted to capture a few birds along the Delaware River, along our southern border with the State of Pennsylvania. So our first full week of trapping effort this past week was directed there. Unfortunately, way too much "easy-pickings" for the eagles, and no luck attracting them to our baits.

After a disappointing week trying to catch bald eagles along the Delaware, we had just about given up hope. The final day of trapping we decided to go after a young golden eagle that has been a regular visitor at our wintering area along the Mongaup River nearby. We set up our rocket net on a rocky spillway before dawn, then retreated to the trucks hoping our luck would change. Just after eight in the morning, the golden arrived, scattering all the crows, ravens and bald eagles that had begun to gather. As it settled in to feed on the deer carcasses we had laid out, we fired the net thinking that at last, we were going to have an eagle.

Most eagles, when the rocket-net fires, try to escape away from the noise and smoke. Not this bird. It flew directly backwards toward the rockets (accidentally we think) taking the shortest route out of the net ( the net is placed so that most of it lands in front of our bait, the direction most birds fly when they hear the noise). As the net settled down the golden continued to fly, pushing out and escaping. Just not our week!!

After the frustration settled we reset the net, thinking we might at least catch a bald eagle later in the day. Around 3 pm what we thought was an immature bald eagle settled on the bait. Checking through binoculars we couldn't believe it, the golden eagle was back! This time we let it eat for almost ten minutes, getting comfortable and turning away from the net. As we watched, one brave raven came in to the carcass and began harassing the eagle, poking at it's tailfeathers and trying to make it leave.

When we fired the net, the eagle again flew straight backwards toward the explosion. Luckily this time, though, its reactions were a little slower and it didn't make it out. In the rush to get to the net and eagle, Craig took a tumble and sprained his ankle. Un-fazed though, he continued running toward the net and our prize. First we released the hapless raven that was also caught, then we untangled the golden from the net. Up close the bird was beautiful; a young male with golden feathers covering the back of the head. When we released the bird a little later, it was carrying a new band, A20, and satellite transmitter number 12474. Since golden eagles are listed as a New York endangered species, the opportunity to see one up close was a rare pleasure.

This is only the second golden eagle we have ever put a satellite radio on, and it will be very interesting to see where he goes and especially if he comes back to this area of New York next winter. We also wonder how a golden eagles movements and migration will compare to our bald eagles from the same area; stay tuned!

Thanks to Craig Thompson and Kathy Michell for a job well-done this trapping day!

Given the extremely mild conditions and the apparent lack of winter, I am doubtful we will get much more trapping in this winter. We will have to see.