VANCOUVER — Staff at a bird rehabilitation centre in Kamloops, B.C., typically don't know where their rescued animals originally came from, but a recently discovered golden eagle was able to reveal just that.
The young golden eagle was found weak and starving just before the new year on the shore of the Thompson River.
Residents who spotted the bird called the Conservation Officer Service, which brought it to Fawcett Family Wildlife Health Centre — the only facility of its kind within a 400 kilometre radius.
Animal care supervisor Adrienne Clay said officers noticed right away that the eagle was both banded and carrying a GPS tracker.
Using the number on the band, staff were quickly able to determine the eagle was from Alaska and was born around May of last year, Clay said.
They were also able to connect the GPS tracker to Alaskan researchers at Denali National Park.
"I honestly had no idea golden eagles migrated from Alaska all the way through Kamloops," she said, adding it also helped explain the eagle's poor condition.
"They need to be in pretty tip-top shape and trained up for hunting so they can actually make these huge migrations."
Wildlife biologist Carol McIntyre, who is involved in the study, wasn't immediately available for an interview.
A recent article McIntyre published said golden eagles typically migrate to central Mexico for the winter and over a 20-year life span will travel more than 400,000 kilometres.
Climate change, habitat loss and urban development are increasingly posing threats to the birds during their migration. Noting there have been declines in reproduction, McIntyre said conservation efforts are important to prevent an irreversible collapse of the population.
Clay said in this case, it appears a number of factors played against the bird.
A recent cold snap with plenty of snow likely made hunting difficult for the young bird, she said. Flying a long distance without sufficient food weakened it to a point it could no longer fly.
"If he had landed anywhere else outside the city, it's really unlikely he had been spotted," she said. "He's a really lucky bird."
The eagle is expected to make a full recovery and Clay said it will be released back into the wild this spring.
"Once we get this animal through this juvenile period and give it a second chance at life next summer ... I think he'll live a very long and healthy life."
The GPS tracker will remain on the bird, which Clay said will help answer questions staff at the rehabilitation centre have regarding what happens to animals once they're released.
Having monitored other birds, Clay said she believes they return to their summer home and complete a proper migration the following season.
This eagle would help confirm that theory for her.
"The researchers always know where this bird is," she said. "We're going to follow up with it and see where it goes."
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