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Meet Hermes, the third golden eagle named at Bernheim Forest

A man holds a golden eagle, examining its wing.
Bernheim Forest and Arboretum
Hermes is a 6-year-old male eastern golden eagle

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest named its newest golden eagle Hermes after the Greek deity. He’ll be tracked on his migration between the Bluegrass State and the Canadian wilderness.

Earlier this spring, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest welcomed its newest flying feathered visitor, a 6-year-old male eastern golden eagle.

“[There was] chattering of the squirrels and this swooping in and alarm calls from crows in the area,” said Evan Patrick, Bernheim’s natural areas manager. “It was very obvious that a large predator had just arrived on that site.”

After 1,000 online votes from local nature-lovers, Bernheim named its third golden eagle “Hermes” after the Greek god of travel, speed and trade. The Olympic deity is known as the flying “messenger of the gods,” bedecked with winged sandals on his feet.

A small and unique species

Bernheim researchers found Hermes along Golden Eagle Ridge. It’s a hilly, secluded and grassy area at the center of Bernheim’s thick forests. The ridge is not accessible to visitors, and Bernheim’s conservation director Andrew Berry said the isolation is intentional.

“These golden eagles are pretty shy,” Berry said. “They don't want to be around humans. They don't want to be around agricultural land. They largely avoid roads and any other kind of disturbances when they move around this part of central Kentucky.”

Hermes is one of three eagles Bernheim has seen on the ridge, Berry said. The young raptor is now a part of Bernheim’s long-term eastern golden eagle project. Berry said he’s been involved in the project since the beginning 15 years ago.

“There was a lot of mystery and you know, a lot of blank holes in the knowledge around these golden eagles, and what they were doing when they were in Kentucky.”

Eastern golden eagles are a population within the North American golden eagle subspecies. The distinct eastern population takes different migrations routes than any other in its species, Patrick said. In the summer, eastern golden eagles typically migrate through the Canadian wilderness to nest.

In the winter months, eastern golden eagles use Bernheim and other forests in the Appalachian Mountains throughout Kentucky and West Virginia as refuge.

Hermes takes flight

In March, Hermes was fitted with a small GPS transmitter that he wears like a backpack. The tracking technology records his flight speed, migration patterns and elevation. Since Bernheim began tracking the male raptor, he has traveled through northern Kentucky across the river to Indiana , and he has spent a month hunting around the Great Lakes, Patrick said.

Mike Lanzone and Dr. Tricia Miller, hold up the golden eagle.
Bernheim Forest
The transmitter is fitted on the golden eagles' back like a backpack.

Eastern gold eagles typically spend less time hunting in long stretches, but Berry said Hermes’ unique behavior indicates that he might not have a mate or a nest.

Hermes is the youngest golden eagle Bernheim has tracked thus far. In 2019, Bernheim began tracking Athena, a female golden eagle and the mate of Harper, the first golden eagle they ever tracked. Harper died somewhere in the Canadian wilderness in 2021.

Recent tracking data shows that Hermes is traveling between the United States and Canada along Lake Huron.

Plans for protection

Last year, the Eastern Golden Eagle Working Group created a conservation plan, protecting the eagles from environmental threats for the first time.

All subspecies have been federally protected since 1940 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. While protections are in place, Berry said threats against eastern golden eagles are unique.

Due to their migration patterns, eastern golden eagles face threats like wind turbines in the upper Midwest, Berry said. The eagles are also highly susceptible to lead poisoning from bullet fragments left in their prey by hunters.

“We're hoping that the Eastern Golden Eagle Conservation Plan can not just help the golden eagles, but be an umbrella document that will help a lot of these other species that depend upon large tracts of forest,” said Bernheim’s conservation director Andrew Berry.

Berry said he is hoping to raise awareness not only in the conservationist community but also among hunters.

“There's a lot of non-lead alternatives now that people can use that don't impact not just eagles, but also other animals that might feed on carcasses,” he said.

To further protect the eastern golden eagle, Bernheim has to manicure its lands.

Patrick said Bernheim must routinely conduct controlled burns at Golden Eagle Ridge to eliminate invasive species of grass and other shrubbery.

The upkeep allows for researchers to access the land, Berry said.

“It's nice that Bernheim is able to use the land that we managed to further scientific publications and information about species like golden eagles,” he said.

The data collected from Hermes and Athena, helps Bernheim support those efforts, researchers said. Bernheim will continue to track Hermes and Athena during their migrations across North America.

This story has been updated to clarify that eastern golden eagles are a population of bird within the North American subspecies.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.

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