The journey began late last March, near the western edge of Connecticut, before taking a northward path to a remote spot near the Quebec-Labrador border. After a summer spent there, the return began in October and ended back in the same area it began.

Not exactly where West Virginia University researcher Todd Katzner expected this golden eagle to travel.

Katzner has been researching golden eagles for nearly two decades but the data he was able to gather from this particular eagle’s migration – using a device of his own design – has given him a new perspective on the bird’s behavior.

Using the device, which provides data every 30 seconds instead of every hour, Katzner was able to successfully track the travels of a female eagle that had been rehabilitated at Tufts Wildlife Clinic in Massachusetts.

The findings may prove crucial to the species’ survival.

Katzner, a research assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries resources in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, and Phil Turk, an assistant professor of statistics at WVU’s Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, have received funding from several federal and state conservation agencies, individuals and wind power business owners to study the birds’ flight paths. The goal was for the researchers to provide advice about the development of future wind power plants that would be less harmful to birds or interfere with their migratory patterns. In 2011, the pair received a $321,000 grant from the Bureau of Land Management, a component of the U.S. Department of the Interior, to provide data and analysis on eagle movements in California.

Click to hear Katzner describe some of the surprises he discovered after studying data from a female golden eagle that migrated from the northeastern U.S. to northern Quebec and the importance of his research.

Golden eagles are not officially endangered but are protected in the U.S. by numerous state and federal laws. Although more commonly found only in the western states, Alaska and Canada, Katzner’s research has revealed a surprising number of birds that winter in Appalachia.

Katzner said golden eagles exhibit “stereotyped behavior” meaning that behavior from one bird typifies behavior of the entire species.

“This is a charismatic species that people are drawn to and because of that our research is really important for conservation,” Katzner said. “These data are providing all kinds of insight that we never would have gotten – about the number of birds, where they go, where they’re from and how much time they spend at various locations.”

Katzner’s bird was found by snowmobilers in Amenia, NY. It had sustained multiple puncture wounds on its left leg, likely caused by an animal; it was treated and released by Tufts last March. Prior to release, Katzner outfitted the golden eagle with a high-frequency GPS-GSM (global positioning system-global system for mobile communications) telemetry unit that his company, Cellular Tracking Technologies, LLC created, and a tracking band.

The data revealed surprising information. During the winter, the bird remained in the northeastern U.S., including parts of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. During the spring flew to a remote spot in Quebec near the Labrador border.

Katzner called that migration, “completely unexpected.”

There was no mobile phone service in the area so data on the bird’s travels were stored until it re-entered more populous regions of the U.S. last month. What followed was a data bonanza that Katzner transformed into a detailed map of the bird’s flight.

“Working with this golden eagle is an exciting opportunity for us, both because it is so rare for them to show up here and also because it gave us the opportunity to showcase our facility and the important link to science through our collaboration with WVU,” said Dr. Florina Tseng, director of Tufts Wildlife Clinic.

Click to hear Todd Katzner, a research assistant professor of wildlife and fisheries resources in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, talk about a study that will help preserve golden eagles from the dangers of wind power plants and the future goals of his research.

Katzner’s maps will also be invaluable in advising the billion-dollar wind power industry on where to build new plants that are eagle-friendly. The data will also build on Katzner’s research, which he says will expand to include more golden eagles, more locations and different species of birds over the next few years.

“We’ve gotten huge amounts of basic ecological and behavioral data that we would have never known anything about,” he said. “It’s all new. And it’s amazing. This telemetry gives us so much insight into what these birds are doing,” he said.

Katzner will continue to collaborate with wildlife researchers, individuals, businesses and government agencies, using WVU as the hub for global golden eagle research.

“I’ve been building this for years but it really took off when I got to WVU,” he said. “WVU has provided me with the infrastructure and capacity to expand this network. Every year it picks up more steam and it really has expanded in the last two years.”



CONTACT: Todd Katzner; Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design

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