Decorah Eagle Update, Decorah, Iowa

Nov 22, 2012  | 5 min  | Ep 206

In 2011, Iowa Outdoors shared the story of Bob Anderson and the Decorah eagle cam.  It was in 2007 when Anderson placed a web cam above an eagle's nest near a fish hatchery on the edge of Decorah, Iowa.  Since then over 275 million people have been able to tune in on the Internet and watch the pair of eagles as they laid their eggs then raised their young. 

Under the watchful eye of the Internet, people from all over the world could keep track of the eagles 24/7 until they left the nest.  For many, the eagles may have been out of sight, but not out of mind.

Anderson: Everybody asks me what happened to the babies from last year.  That is a question that I've heard since we've been filming at this nest and we can't answer it.  So by putting a satellite transmitter on one of the babies we'll be able to follow it for years and years and years, get GPS coordinates and we'll learn, we'll find out.

To achieve his goal, Anderson on July 11th of 2011 trapped one of the eagles that had hatched that year.  Once the bird was captured he and Brett Mandernack of Wisconsin's Eagle Valley Natural Preserve fitted the female eagle with a solar powered GPS transmitter capable of tracking the eagle anywhere in the world.

Anderson: We're going to monitor a local, indigenous bird from a population because the parents don't migrate.  They stay here year round.  But do the babies migrate?  We don't know.  We're going to find out.  We're going to answer that question.  We're actually going to learn a little bit of science here and we're real excited about that.

Since the eagle, now known as D1 was released, people have been able to follow the bird's travels over the Internet.  In March of 2012, D1 began a trek north that took her out of Iowa and all the way to Polar Bear Provincial Park in northern Canada, some 1,000 miles away.

Anderson: Well, we do know that a lot of young eagles tend to go north and that's just a general trend and this last summer when she went to northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota nobody was surprised.  But for her to set off for the Arctic and cover it in just a few days and be 1,000 miles, she is closer to the North Pole than she is Iowa right now.  So, I mean, that's just amazing.  A lot of people are really surprised.  Who would have guessed that an Iowa eagle would be up in the Arctic?

In September, D1 turned around and began traveling south and in November was just north of Elkader, Iowa.  It was an opportunity for Anderson to track her down and get a visual sighting.  Driving with an Omni antenna mounted to the roof of his car Anderson got readings every minute which let him know if he was getting closer to the eagle.  The higher the number, the closer he was getting.

Anderson: I'm thinking, yeah, we're within, we're real close to her right now.  I should switch the attenuator.

To get a better idea of the direction he needed to travel, however, Anderson need to use a handheld antenna.  Every stop took more than four minutes as he checked four compass points to determine which direction he needed to go.  After several miles of driving and several stops, visual confirmation was made with the transmitter visible on D1's back.

Anderson: It was an exciting day.  It's always nice when you get a signal and it makes it even better when you get to track down the bird and confirm that you can see the transmitter on the bird's back.  To actually get a signal, an hour ago when we got the first signal I just, I get a little bit giddy almost and then as the signal strength increases you just kind of, you know that you're getting close.  So it was a little bit difficult today, it really was, but we finally cracked it and got her.  It's incredible, it really is.

This summer, Anderson fitted one of this year's Decorah eagles, a male, with another transmitter.  It's possible to keep track of both birds by visiting the raptor resource project's website at  In other news from Decorah, the adult eagles have begun building a new nest.  It's about 300 feet from their old nest.

Anderson: It's pretty common.  About 43% of all bald eagle pairs build auxiliary nests, sometimes three.  We have one nest in Minnesota where they built two nests in the same tree and they bounce between, back and forth between the nests.  So we don't know what's going to happen.  Sometimes they build an auxiliary nest and never use it.  So we'll just have to cross our fingers.  But if they do use the Decorah nest this next spring or this next winter for egg laying we won't be able to have a Decorah eagle cam.  And it's burning holes in my stomach but there's nothing I can do.  There's just nothing I can do about it.