"We're looking at wintering populations and population density," O'Malley said. "We have really good numbers of golden eagles wintering in West Virginia. The highest density anywhere is in the highlands of West Virginia and western Virginia, since they prefer forested uplands away from a lot of human activity.
Golden eagles tend to live solitary lives, with pairs maintaining hunting territories that can be as large as 60 square miles. Golden eagle mates stay together for several years, and in some cases, for life.
"Unlike bald eagles, goldens don't get together in big groups," O'Malley said. "They prefer to live in areas that are more remote than the places bald eagles live."
Katzner said preliminary results of genetic studies comparing DNA from eastern golden eagles to those in the west indicate there are few differences between the two populations.
"Other than the fact that one group lives in the east and the other lives in the west, there doesn't seem to be much difference between them," he said.
Because golden eagles spend the first four or five years of their lives "in a pre-breeding phase, traveling around and trying to figure out where to stay," there's likely to be some crossover breeding between the two populations, Katzner said.
Current estimates of the eastern golden eagle population range between 2,000 and 5,000 individuals.
"We'll be doing some computer modeling, but right now, I'm starting to think the population is on the high side of those estimates," Katzner said.
One side benefit of operating the remote camera sites is being able to get an idea about how other wildlife species fare during the winter.
Last winter, cameras at bait sites in West Virginia photographed 17 bird species and 15 mammal species, according to O'Malley.
Bird species photographed dining on the deer carcasses included owls, crows, ravens, blue jays and titmice, while mammals included coyotes, foxes, bobcats, fishers, skunks, raccoons and wood rats.
O'Malley is involved with a spin-off study that evolved from the remote photos. "We started seeing spotted skunks, which have become very uncommon in the state, turning up in the photographs," he said. By taking note of the camera site locations that recorded spotted the seldom-seen skunks, "We've been able to add to their range," O'Malley said. "They're a lot more widespread than we thought, but still not very abundant."
For more information on the study, visit www.appalachianeagles.org.Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169