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After her former love went missing, Athena the golden eagle has a new mate

Athena the golden eagle in flight around Bernheim Forest.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
Athena in flight around Bernheim Forest.

It appears Athena the golden eagle has a new beau.

Researchers at Bernheim Arboretum have spent the better part of two decades studying golden eagles. For a while, they tracked a mating pair using solar-powered GPS trackers, that is, until the male, Harper, died on a hunting trip in the Canadian wilderness in April 2021.

Athena waited at the nest a few days before departing. The GPS coordinates show she began hunting on her own and roaming the wilds around Wapusk National Park in Manitoba, Canada, for the summer before heading back to Bernheim alone.

“When she arrived back here this year in fall of 2022, we looked closely to see if she was hanging out with another eagle, and we discovered that she was,” said Conservation Director Andrew Berry.

Late last winter, researchers spotted Athena with another eagle at Bernheim. Berry says he spent four days in a blind observing the two eagles cooperating with each other in late January.

Here’s audio of the pair communicating with each other on a ridgeline in Bernheim’s interior as a bald eagle approached. The pair were seen chattering, taking turns flying off the perch and even hitting the bald eagle in an aerial attack.

Berry has also seen a third, juvenile golden eagle hanging out in the same territory. He believes it’s possible it could be Athena’s offspring with her new partner.

“He looks like he’s of the age he would have been hatched last year,” Berry said.

The latest findings raise new questions about golden eagle behavior. From Berry’s observations, he thinks it may be that female golden eagles have more control over territorial decisions than males.

“If this is a new mate, then she actually played an active role in bringing that bird into her new territory,” Berry said. “So it opens up new questions about cooperation and how much influence the females have.”

As of now, researchers have no plans to try and capture and track Athena’s partner, but will continue to observe the pair around Bernheim. They’ve got just a few more weeks however, before Athena starts her journey north to summer in the Canadian wilderness.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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