Decorah eagle leaves home 1,100 miles behind

Visitors continue to flock to new nest for chance to see this year's tree hatchlings

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March 29, 2014 | 4:53 am

While three eaglets test their wings near the world-famous Decorah eagles nest, their older sister, 2 ½-year-old D-1, has again ridden hers about 1,100 miles to her summer haunt above the tree line on Canada’s Hudson Bay.

“Her travels have been absolutely amazing. I couldn’t imagine that an Iowa eagle would spend two summers near the arctic,” said Bob Anderson, who with eagle researcher Brett Mandernack fitted D-1 with a solar-powered satellite transmitter on July 12, 2011, to learn what becomes of young northern eagles after they leave the nest.

In her first year, D-1 (for Decorah first satellite) took a four-month, 900-mile tour of Minnesota and Wisconsin before returning to Decorah on Dec. 28. Last year, she journeyed more than 1,100 miles to Polar Bear Provincial Park on Hudson Bay, where she spent three months before returning to Decorah just before Christmas.

D-1’s 2012 trip to Hudson Bay took a leisurely 39 days; this year she covered the same distance in 15 days, according to Anderson, director of the Raptor Resource Project, whose nest-cam website has attracted more than 200 million visits in a single year.

Mandernack, who has studied raptors for 30 years and manages an eagle preserve in southwest Wisconsin, said D-1’s recent trip constitutes an exception to widely held beliefs that young eagles are nomadic.

“She was during her first two years, but this time it was like she had a flight plan. On her way north this year she followed almost the same route as her return trip last fall. She is apparently guiding off land forms,” he said.

Both Mandernack and Anderson think she found something to her liking along Hudson Bay.

“The fishing must have been pretty good. She was well fed and in great physical condition when she returned last winter,” Mandernack said.

Anderson said he hopes the solar-powered transmitter, soon to be entering its third year of operation, will keep working at least until D-1 reaches reproductive maturity – typically at age 4 -- and starts raising young of her own.

“When and where she nests will be a revelation,” said Mandernack, who has fitted 19 eagles with transmitters, which typically last from 3 ½ to 4 years.

“After all her wandering, my guess is she will nest in northeast Iowa or southeast Minnesota. That’s a pretty safe bet,” he said.

Meanwhile, back at the natal nest, life goes on, even though the popular nest cam is temporarily off line after the eagle parents abruptly moved into a new nest earlier this year.

This year’s three hatchlings, now about 12 weeks old, are on the wing but staying close to the nest, Anderson said.

Though offline, the new nest, about 400 feet from the established nest near the Decorah Fish Hatchery, continues to draw many visitors, Anderson said.

“It’s crazy. I thought there might be a dropoff this year, but it hasn’t happened,” said Emily Kurash, communications director for the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce.

While the nest cam is offline, Jim Womeldorf, who lives near the new nest, has posted more than 200 videos of the 2013 eagle family on YouTube. Most of them have attracted hundreds of viewers, and several have been viewed by thousands.

The easiest way to find them is to go to www.decorahlutheran.org, then down the right column to a prompt labeled “2013 Decorah Eagle Videos.”

Recorded with a telescope-mounted camera at a distance of 300 yards, the videos are less sharp than those recorded by the nest cam.

“But it’s better than nothing. It’s the only game in town,” Womeldorf said.

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