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Scientists seeking new ways to track golden eagle population in Wyoming

wyoming golden eagle.jpg
Posted at 9:06 AM, Jul 10, 2024

CODY — Several scientists are coming to the Big Horn Basin near Cody to study golden eagles in a new way. They’re fitting the huge raptors with satellite transmitters, to find out how the eagles live and are challenged by new threats.

A newly released young golden eagle faces a harsh future. Only half the fledglings survive their first year

Not all of the eagles that hatch live to leave the nest. They face many threats naturally, including starvation.

Teton Raptor Center Scientist Brian Bedrosian says there are new threats now.

“We are seeing a really high increase in the use of UTVs, ATVs, dirt bikes, a lot of these motorized activities in the backcountry," he said.

Bedrosian said the machines bring noise to solitary spaces, and the people they carry bring other threats.

“And there’s also the noise aspect of it someone’s plinking 22s, or skeet right around the corner from an eagle’s nest,” he said.

Bedrosian pointed out that could cause the parents to abandon the nest, which could kill the chicks.

“And maybe the chick gets dehydrated, or maybe too much sun, or they don’t bring food back right away," he said.

A team of scientists, climbers, and students are fitting the young birds with solar-powered satellite transmitters. The transmitters will send back data for years. That will tell the scientists where the eagles are flying, nesting, and dying.

Dr. Ellen Aikens from the University of Wyoming hopes to answer questions about the eagles.

She said the transmitters will help “to understand how different key behaviors develop over the lifetime of the birds.”

But, why are these researchers coming to the Big Horn Basin now? Dr. Charles Preston has studied golden eagle reproduction here for 16 years. He’s found this is one of the best golden eagle habitats in the country.

“We identified more than 85 territories. Now, the platform that we’ve established is used by other research teams that we’re working with," Preston said.

The new tools will help answer many questions about this eagle population for years and help eagles in other areas where wind farms, housing developments, and other threats like lead poisoning put other populations at risk.