On December 18, 2014, the Montana Raptor Conservation Center (MRCC) released a 23-year-old Golden Eagle that completed a short rehabilitation. Local biologists captured and banded the eagle in 1992 and believe it migrates through the area year after year. The male eagle (GE 174-14) was equipped with a satellite transmitter that can track its movements for approximately one year; the transmitter falls off as the bird’s feathers undergo their annual molt.
GE 174-14 was rescued from the Flathead pass area north of Bozeman on December 4. Area residents called MRCC to report the raptor was having trouble flying. “He just ran into some bad luck,” explains Becky Kean, Director of Montana Raptor Conservation Center. “His feathers got wet and he had a very full crop, so it was difficult for him to get off the ground.”
Routine blood tests revealed elevated lead levels in the eagle’s bloodstream. MRCC staff provided chelation therapy to reduce the lead and supportive therapy, such as hydration. “He has shown good progress in our flight barn, and is ready to go back to the wild,” says Kean.
Original field documents show that GE 174-14 was trapped on March 31, 1992 near Ringling as a juvenile from the spring hatch. “Measurements illustrate this bird has grown into a healthy adult,” adds Kean, noting that he weighed 3400 grams (7 lbs. 8 oz.) in 1992 and is currently 3700 grams (8 lbs. 2.5 oz.). “Most Golden Eagles don’t live past their first year. If they do survive, their lifespan typically peaks at about 11 years in the wild,” she explains. “Other than picking up some lead along the way, this boy has done a good job of providing for himself,” she adds.
Satellite tracking will help researchers by providing information on GE 174-14’s migratory habits. “He was born in the area and he’s wintering here,” explains Kean, “In the spring he’ll go somewhere to meet up with his mate and breed.” Kean and the others studying the eagle speculate that his breeding grounds are in Alaska, but until they receive data from the transmitter, they will not know for sure.
Although biologists ban birds all the time—GE 174-14 was one of 30 local eagles caught in the 1992 banding project—it’s not often that raptors are recaptured or rescued alive. “MRCC has rescued 175 birds of prey so far this year and only three have had bans,” says Jordan Spyke, Assistant Director. “We saw no banded birds in 2013 and only one in 2012,” so this is fairly unusual,” he adds. “The bans have an 800 number, and the fact that no one has reported GE 174-14 is a sign that he’s been living a good life,” says Jordan.
“We are always excited when we release a raptor back into the wild. It’s especially rewarding to learn about the birds after they have left our care, as we can do with GE 174-14 and his satellite tracker,” says MRCC Board President Rick Sanders. “Raptor-related research is a critical part of our mission,” he adds. “The more we can learn about these majestic creatures, the better positioned we are to help them.”