An Eagle's Legacy

Elaine was a big, powerful raptor who gave scientists a fight for their lives when she was captured for tagging!

Elaine, the Golden Eagle that was tagged on Nature Conservancy land in 2010 is one of three eagles caught in snare traps in late January. Unfortunately, Elaine was one of the two that perished as a result. No one was more disappointed than Rob Domenech, the head of Raptor View Research Center, the group that had attached a satellite transmitter on the big bird.

“It’s really sad to lose a breeding age bird that had been so healthy and strong, and contributed so much valuable information about her species.”

During the two years that scientist tracked her movements, they learned that she spent her summers in Alaska’s Brooks Range before migrating south along the Rocky Mountain Front to her winter range in Montana’s Big Belt Mountains and Paradise Valley. (See a map)  In the end, she also provided information about human-caused mortality. 

“Although we try not to get emotionally attached to the birds we study, Elaine was kind of special. She was a real fighter ... if we had made one mistake when we captured her to install the transmitter, someone could have been seriously hurt! It’s sad to lose here, but she provided us with a lot of information...she really did her job for conservation, “said Domenech.

It’s impossible to know for certain if any of the three birds had been targeted for trapping– which is illegal. Domenech theorizes that they may have been caught in traps laid out for coyotes or wolves. But, the trapping of three eagles, in identical snare-type traps, within such a short span of time has raised concern for scientists trying to understand the decline in Golden Eagle populations across the region – a loss estimated at as much as 50% in the last 15 years. Studies of Elaine and other tracked eagles have reinforced the importance Conservancy’s work preserving the Rocky Mountain Front – their essential flyway between winter and summer range.

There are several factors that may contribute to eagle mortality. About half the birds that were examined by Domenech’s team were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. They believe this may come from fragmented, lead-core ammunition that’s inadvertently ingested when the birds feed on gut piles during hunting season. Eagles are killed by vehicles when they feed on road-killed deer in the winter. Electrocution from poorly-configured power poles and  the loss of prey due to habitat loss and degradation are also threats to these raptors.

Of the other two eagles caught in the snare traps, one had to be euthanized and the third is at a wildlife rehab facility in Bozeman.

Read the original 2011 story about Elaine ( pdf 500 kb)



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