Location data from Golden Boy's transmitter will be beamed to a polar-orbiting Argos satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and then relayed to the WVU researchers. The transmitters used in the study are expected to remain operational for at least three years.
Since the study began in 2006, it was initially believed that fewer than 2,000 golden eagles lived in the eastern United States. From data gleaned since then, "it now looks like there may be 3,000 or even 4,000 of them," Miller said.
The study also showed that the highlands of West Virginia and bordering counties in Virginia provide the winter range for most eastern golden eagles, although winter populations of the species are also turning up in northern Pennsylvania and southern New York. The birds travel to Quebec, Labrador and northern Ontario to breed and nest.
The study has also turned up the presence of golden eagles in unexpected locations, including Arkansas and southwest Missouri.
The western population of golden eagles is believed to be about 10 times larger than that found in the east.
In West Virginia and elsewhere in the eastern United States, bald eagles are more abundant than golden eagles, and are more frequently seen. While bald eagles feed on fish and waterfowl in lakes and rivers, often within view of human activity, golden eagles are more wary of humans and favor remote highland terrain where they dine on turkey, grouse, rabbits, rodents and winterkill or road-kill deer.
While freezing rain, high winds and other forms of inclement weather delayed a planned release of the TRAC-rehabilitated golden eagle earlier this week, the bird will be set free as soon as conditions moderate, according to Wendy Perrone.
The eagle's eventual departure will be a bittersweet event.
"They say you should never fall in love with a bird," she said. "But with a bird like this, you can't help it."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.