Golden Eagle Project: Talladega National Forest


Close up of Pinhoti the golden eagle. (Photo by Renee Morrison)

Sitting in a “ten by ten by five foot” hand-made-of-sticks-debris-camouflage blind with six other ornithologists staring at a rotting deer carcass for twelve hours with NO restroom breaks may sound like torture to some folks. But to EEAA’s Renee Morrison and five others it was worth every second.

“We entered the blind around 4:30 am. At 10:30 am the golden eagle made his appearance. His mother had been caught a day earlier (see Pinhoti: Golden Eagle Capture and Release). This eagle wanted to eat but was wary of the aliens (aka ornithologists) who had eagle-napped his mother,” says Morrison.

They watched this eagle for about five hours. He moved from tree to tree eyeing the venison. As he circled, two red-tailed hawks fussed with one another while feasting on his would-be meal and a pack of coyotes howled musically in the distance. Morrison says, “It was amazing to be in the midst of such a powerful predator/prey ensemble.”

Eagle Tracking Device

Eagle Experts, Mark and Trish, attach the tracking device to Pinhoti. (Photo by Renee Morrison)

Through JSU Field Schools, Morrison partners with the US Forest Service on projects like this one. She uses the information, photos, film and experience to enhance preK-12 environmental education programs for JSU, USFS and EEAA.

According to Jonathan Stober, USFS biologist, the banding project in Talladega is one of 250 from Maine to Alabama. In Alabama, six birds have been banded in the last three years of the project — five this year. Two more were caught and banded in Jackson County and one in Colbert County this year.

Golden eagles are big, about 16 to 20 pounds; the females are larger. They can have a wingspan of 7 feet. They are powerful predators and with their talons have a grip of 400 pounds per square inch, about 10 times the grip of a human hand.

Renee and Ray with Eagle

Ray Bittle, president of the Friends of the TNF, holds Pinhoti the eagle and Renee Morrison on right. (Photo by Christopher Raney)