Guest Post: Arkansas Golden Eagle Project

This is a guest blog written by Mike Lanzone, CEO/co-founder, Cellular Tracking Technologies, and Dr. Trish Miller, Executive Director and Senior Research Wildlife Biologist, Conservation Science Global.

In winter 2022-23, Mike Lanzone and Dr. Trish Miller launched a research project in Arkansas. Their primary objective is capturing five Golden Eagles and attaching ES-500 GPS/GSM + Argos Hybrid tracking devices to each one in order to understand the wintering ecology of Golden Eagles in Arkansas.

Throughout their field work, Mike and Trish recapped each day’s events–the good, the mundane, and everything in between. What follows are their field dispatches.

Day 1, Mike

4:30 a.m.: We set up at a suitable area in northwest Arkansas, with hopes of catching our first of three Golden Eagles we are trying for in Arkansas this winter.

About 9:30 a.m.: A Bald Eagle showed up and landed in front of us, where it remained for about an hour before continuing on its way.

11:00 a.m.: The first Golden Eagle (GOEA) showed up and landed in a big tree along the edge of the woods in front of us. It sat there for about an hour, intermittently preening, before it started to fly around the site. The photo below is a great example of how well they can blend into the trees.

Around 1:00 p.m.: That same GOEA returned and landed behind us. We could see it through a little hole on the side of the blind, where it sat for almost 4 hours, preening sporadically and looking around. It almost appeared to be guarding the bait pile.

4:00 p.m.: The GOEA flew down to the bait pile and landed directly behind our trap. It sat there for a few minutes before flying to the other side of the bait, where it briefly landed. It looked at the bait pile, and then at the trap, and appeared not to like something. Even though a dummy trap was established here for many weeks, it's likely that it had become accustomed to that exact trap. Upon arrival, we had to move things around a bit, which may have caused it to be a bit more cautious. It flew up and landed in a tree in front of us again.

Later that evening: The GOEA is out there in the evening light, looking around. It finally decided to head off on its way. With the incoming rain, we decided to give this site a rest for a few days and head to another site in north-central Arkansas.


Day 2, Trish

We were completely rained out from first area. Because we had trapped two Golden Eagles there the previous winter, we decided to travel east to a forest in north-central Arkansas. Unfortunately, heavy rain prevented us from going out into the field, but we were able to enjoy a private tour of a nearby cave. It’s not currently open to the public, or else we would share about its amazing beauty. We weren’t happy to have a rain day, but the cave certainly made up for it!

Sunset: We headed to our sites to set up so that we didn’t tip off any birds of our presence. 

Day 3, Trish

5:30 a.m.: We left our cabin and headed to our separate sites, ensuring we arrived and checked our traps well before sunrise.

Shortly after sunrise: The crows began to call. Crows and Pileated Woodpeckers give distinct alarm calls when eagles are around. At my site, a young Bald Eagle perched above the bait. Soon thereafter, a fourth-year (subadult) male Golden Eagle came in and kicked the Bald Eagle off its perch. This Golden Eagle proceeded to chase most other birds out of the field where the bait was. I had a feeling that this was a catchable bird, if he would finally decide to come in and have a bite to eat! At one point, I thought I observed an eagle land in a pine tree–but it was completely obscured by the needles and branches. A few minutes later the subadult male Golden Eagle landed on a perch–one that was used by nearly every eagle that surveyed the bait pile.

Midmorning: The subadult male Golden Eagle flew to the pine tree, looking down at the spot where I suspected an eagle had landed. That eagle then started making an odd call, and within minutes, flew out of the tree and left. Given that the subadult male Golden Eagle seemed to be dominant at the site and the other eagle left, we concluded that this might have been a subordinate call. Meanwhile, Mike had mostly Golden Eagles at his site; both an adult male and female sat in front of him for quite a long time throughout the morning.

 Adult male (top) and adult female (bottom) Golden Eagles perched in front of Mike on Day 3.

Around 11 a.m.: Mike had a Golden Eagle on the ground. The bird walked over to the bait pile and started feeding. When it was settled, Mike tried to fire the net, but the trigger malfunctioned and the trap would not arm to fire. He tried everything he could think of, but to no avail. He had no choice but to watch it feed and finally fly off. 

1:30 p.m.: I was still fairly confident that I could catch a bird. A Golden Eagle flew to the same favored perch, but it was not the subadult male that had been guarding the site. 

2:25 p.m.: I heard a bird land in the field. It was the subadult male Golden Eagle! The other Golden Eagle remained on the favored perch as the subadult male walked to the bait pile, about 50 feet away. He approached the bait pile cautiously, but soon began feeding in the desired spot…right in the middle of the capture zone. Once he was settled, with his head down and facing the net, I fired the trigger. Golden Eagle number 1 was caught!

Next, I reset the net after removing him from it, and brought the Golden offsite to process him and released him a short time later with his tracking device. We named him Jack, after Jack’s Branch Creek, a local creek by the site.

Day 4, Trish

Well before sunrise: We headed out to the sites again in hopes of catching another Golden Eagle. 

At my site, Bald Eagles abounded, but no Golden Eagles were seen. One young Bald Eagle even fed for more than an hour, probably happy that the dominant subadult male Golden Eagle was nowhere to be seen!

Over at Mike’s site, a Golden Eagle showed up fairly early and perched out of sight. 

About 7:00 a.m.: A second adult Golden Eagle showed up, followed by a third, a subadult that circled overhead! Over the next hour, the three Goldens moved off down the hill out of sight. 

About 9:00 a.m.: The adult female from Day 3 returned, perching in the same spot she had been in the day before. Over the next hour, she moved around to several different trees and the adult male showed up. They were both perched about 30 feet from one another and, as with Day 3, the female decided to perch near him. They were both perched there for about 30 seconds before the male decided he wanted to move; he flew off about 50 feet, perching just out of view.  

Around 10:00 a.m.: A flock of 9 Wild Turkeys appeared on the edge of the field, apparently completely unaware that the female Golden Eagle was perched about 100 feet from them. The female took immediate notice, craning around the tree trunk to obscure her from their view. The turkeys made their way into the field, feeding, while the female Golden intensely watched them. She slowly began to turn her body and reposition herself. I could hardly believe that I was witnessing this. It was very cool, but at the same time, I knew if she went after the turkeys, that likely would result in my going another day without catching an eagle at the site. 

Just when I thought she was going to make a move, one of the jake (young male) turkeys spotted her. It let out a loud shrieking/clucking noise, alerting the other turkeys to key in on where he was looking. They all began making similar alarm noises. Knowing that she had been spotted, the female Golden turned her attention away from the turkeys and back to the deer carcasses. I might get lucky after all!

Around 11:00 a.m.: The female Golden continued to sit on her perch while the turkeys stayed in the field. They worked down the edge and circled back up and around the other side. Since they had noticed the eagle, they were uneasy; most of the turkeys kept their heads up while a few of them took turns foraging. Just about when the turkeys got to the opposite corner of the field, the female Golden decided to fly just out of sight near the opposite corner of the field. This made the turkeys more uneasy, and they clucked a lot more. Then she dropped into the field, landing about 20 feet from the bait. 

I got ready to arm the trap, but I was surprised to hear some weird noise. It was four of the turkeys, running crazy-fast, directly at the eagle! I was dumbfounded as to what was going on! They got to within about 25 feet from the eagle, and she flew off down the path. I was like, Holy #$%*, I can’t believe that just happened! while simultaneously thinking, Crap, there goes the eagle again! The four-turkey gang started strutting back toward the flock in the opposite corner of the field when, all of a sudden, I noticed them start to call and run. I looked over to see the Golden flying fast towards them. Her flight caused the turkeys to frantically run around, with some doing weird quick double flaps as they jumped around. She swooped fairly close to them and checked off as the turkeys, now mostly airborne, headed into the forest and down slope. 

The female Golden circled back around the field, landing near the deer again. Minutes later, she made her way to the center of the trap area. When I recognized that she was in a good position, I fired.

Our equipment cooperated today, and the net shot smoothly over her. We processed her and sent her on her way with her new telemetry to learn more about the Golden Eagles of the Ozarks. We named her Rorie, which is a local landmark, and anxiously await her first data dump!