This story was recently published in the Duluth News Tribune, written by John Myers:
Harley the eagle first made news by getting a ride on the back of a motorcycle, but raptor experts now say he’s making news under his own wing power.
The male bald eagle left his summer home on western Lake Vermilion in mid-September, paused a couple of weeks near his former home south of Superior, then made a 640-mile dash to Arkansas in about 12 days. He covered nearly 500 of those miles in just four days.
It’s not clear why Harley went that far south or why he’s settled in a valley of the Ozark Mountains between the towns of Jasper and Parthenon. Scientists placed a GPS transmitter on Harley last winter and are able to track his whereabouts.
Arkansas isn’t known as an eagle wintering hotspot. And Harley certainly flew over lots of eagle food and eagle habitat to get there, said Julia Ponder, director of the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.
“Eagles are obviously much more common in our area than Arkansas, and we were all extraordinarily surprised by Harley’s jaunt to Arkansas,’’ Ponder said. “But this is a perfect example of how much we do not know about wildlife. The biologists in Arkansas did know they had a small population there, very small compared to our wintering populations, but they had no idea of the northern connection, either.’’
Ponder said they may never know why individual birds behave the way they do and that Harley’s travels raise more questions than answers.
“Harley has done several unexpected things … his abrupt move to northern Minnesota earlier this year, then his jaunt to winter in Arkansas,’’ she said. “When dealing with (just one animal) we can’t make solid scientific conclusions. But every piece of information adds to our knowledge base and gives us ideas of where to look for more information. No one had any idea of any connection between the Arkansas eagles and our northern birds.’’
Harley was found Aug. 3, 2009, foundering along Douglas County Highway T near Wascott by Harley-Davidson motorcyclist Brian Baladez of Cloquet. The bird appeared injured, disoriented and was unable to fly.
Baladez captured the bird in his leather jacket and used a bungee cord to secure it to the saddle bags of his motorcycle and drove it 50 miles to Duluth. Harley eventually was taken to the Raptor Center, where he was treated for lead poisoning and malnutrition. Veterinarians later had to do surgery on the wing from an old break that hadn’t healed properly.
Harley was nursed back to health, fitted with a GPS transmitter and set free — with Baladez called in to handle the release — in late January at a bald eagle wintering area along the Mississippi River south of the Twin Cities. He flew north and spent much of the spring along the South Fork of the Nemadji River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, only about 30 miles from where he was found.
In June, Harley moved north along the St. Louis River and then moved even farther north to Lake Vermilion in mid-July. He spent most of August and September in a relatively small area in the western reaches, or the Cook end, of the lake before taking his 12-day trip south to Arkansas.
The Raptor Center handles more than 800 birds of prey each year. Of about 100 ailing eagles that come into the center each year, more than one-third die because of lead poisoning.
Reports on Harley’s travels can be followed at www.theraptorcenternews.blogspot.com.