The WVU group and its research partners have been studying eastern golden eagles by, among other things, placing remote, motion-sensitive cameras on ridge-top clearings baited with road-kill deer to get a better handle on the species' range and population. Other golden eagles have been trapped in nets, then banded and equipped with radio transmitters allowing researchers to track their migration routes.
Golden Boy is one of several golden eagles that have been found injured, then rehabilitated back to good health and equipped with radio backpacks by those in the WVU study before being released into the wild to resume their travels. In 2011, TRAC rehabilitated a golden eagle that suffered a bruised pelvis after having been struck by a car near the Mercer-Monroe county line, which was also equipped with a transmitter pack and released.
A primary goal of the study is to reduce the risk of fatal wind turbine encounters by eastern bald eagles and other raptors that migrate along the higher ridges of the Central Appalachians — terrain also favored by regional wind energy developers.
"We have 200 cameras operating from Maine to Florida and west to Arkansas," said Miller. So far, about 60 golden eagles have been outfitted with radios, which generally remain operational for three or more years, allowing researchers to precisely track their range and migratory habits. About 20 of the eagle-borne radios are currently active, she said.
Before the golden eagle's radio backpack was installed and adjusted, feather and blood samples were taken to compare the eastern golden eagles' genetic makeup to golden eagles living west of the Rockies.
Location data from Golden Boy's transmitter will be beamed to a polar-orbiting Argos satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and then relayed to the WVU researchers. The transmitters used in the study are expected to remain operational for at least three years.