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Bridger-Teton National Forest employee Jack Hatch releases the 18.5 pound golden eagle in Buffalo Valley, Wyo. Photo by Bryan Bedrosian.

Golden Eagle May Set Record

Local biologists caught what may be the heaviest golden eagle ever recorded in this country in the wild.

At 18.5 pounds, the female golden eagle that Beringia South biologists captured under overcast skies Nov. 13 in Buffalo Valley trumps the heaviest golden eagle weight recorded by about 30 percent.

“It’s not so much bigger in size,” said Bryan Bedrosian, a Beringia South research biologist who was on the scene with the eagle. “It’s right in line with upper measurements for golden eagles, but [she was] significantly heavier.”

Bedrosian said the larger golden eagles usually weigh in at about 13.5 to 14 pounds. Since the time of capture, Beringia South biologists have contacted raptor researchers to confirm the bird’s possible record-breaking weight. So far she reigns as the United States’ heavyweight champion.

The biologists’ capture is part of the Kelly-based Beringia South’s ongoing research on bird movement and lead content in blood.

They spent the fall hunting season capturing birds and testing their blood for lead content. The biologists hypothesize that high lead levels may be from birds eating gut piles and carcasses of animals shot by lead bullets.

Lucky for this eagle, she was not only hefty, but healthy, too. Her blood tests came back lead-free, the biologists report.

Biologists captured this eagle using a “whoosh net,” a trap in which they baited the eagle with a road-killed elk.

When captured, the eagle had a full crop, a pouch for food storage, which may have contributed up to 1.5 pounds to the total weight, Bedrosian said.

“That’s 1.5 pounds worth of meat,” he said.

Even if the biologists subtracted 1.5 pounds from the 18.5, at 17 pounds, this eagle is still notably heavier than the heaviest eagles recorded.

Researchers took blood samples, measurements, attached a light aluminum leg band to the eagle and released her back into the wild in Buffalo Valley, east of Moran Junction.

Along with continuing their bird movement and lead levels research, Beringia South biologists will continue confirming this eagle’s possible record-breaking status.

“This weight record is just a small piece of the information we get while pursuing the larger objectives of a study like this,” said Derek Craighead, president of Beringia South.

Golden eagles range from northern Canada and Alaska to northern Mexico. Although golden eagles are numerous in many parts of Wyoming, bald eagles outnumber them in Jackson Hole by about 200 percent.

During their hunting season research, Beringia South researchers captured 25 total eagles, which included two golden eagles and 23 bald eagles.

Golden Eagle Lore:

Asian falconers and Plains Indians, including the Lakota or “Teton Sioux” have long honored the golden eagle.

Golden eagle feathers, especially, became part of Lakota adornments and war clothing, according to a National Park Web site.

Indians called the eagle the “sun eagle,” “mountain eagle” and “thunderbird.”

Some people call the golden eagle the “king of the sky,” or in this case, the queen. Females are larger than males, making the record-setting female eagle that much more believable. Go girl!

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