Emory Bryan, News On 6
PAYNE COUNTY, Oklahoma -- An Oklahoma bald eagle takes flight - with a backpack transmitter attached. It's a project of the Sutton Avian Research Center, with support from the University of Oklahoma.
Dr. Steve Sherrod of the Sutton Avian Center admits there's not much that's easy about keeping track of bald eagles with technology.
"Getting it all on, and at the right stage is very complicated," Sherrod said.
Last Thursday the Sutton Avian Center staff and volunteers spent a full day fitting a young bald eagle with a GPS transmitter. It's from the nest they've been watching with a live camera most of the winter.
Three eggs were laid there - and through all that snow and cold, they were carefully protected by the adults. Two of them hatched.
The challenge was to get a transmitter on at least one of the birds - just before it learns to fly.
"It's very difficult when the babies are fledging age," said educator Ryan Vanzant of the Sutton Avian Research Center.
The Sutton Center watches the nest almost constantly - and when the staff isn't looking - that's OK.
"There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of viewers, and there are chat lists devoted to this nest," said Allen Jenkins of the Sutton Avian Center.
"They're discussing every little feather picking and every meal that comes in, so when this eagle flies, we'll know about it for sure.
It didn't help the two eagles were in a nest 80 feet up in a tree that was covered with poison ivy. It took a cherry picker to get up there - and by the time the transmitters were ready - and the bird was down on the ground - tornadoes were bearing down on the nesting site.
They got a transmitter on one of the birds, but the other one flew off. Sherrod says the effort helps rebuild the species.
"Actually the part after they leave the nest, with almost all birds, very little is known about their life cycle," Dr. Steve Sherrod said.
That's changing with successes like this - that uses technology to watch eagles in the nest - and follows them when they're ready to fly.
On Wednesday, April 20, the eagle with the transmitter took its first flight - and returned to the nest.