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The Abstract

Tracking Bald Eagles in Coastal North Carolina

Left to right; Dr. Joni Gnyp, Roland Kays, Lindsay Addison of Audubon North Carolina, and Ted Simons attach a solar GPS telemetry tag to an immature bald eagle. Photo credit: Rob Nelson of Click to enlarge.

Few animals capture the public imagination like the bald eagle. But despite their status as a national emblem, we still have a lot to learn about their behavior in the wild. Now NC State researchers are part of a team that’s using state-of-the-art GPS transmitters and the Movebank animal tracking database to study bald eagle movements in coastal North Carolina.

Map of Yanchen's movements. Image credit: Movebank. Click to enlarge.
Map of Yanchen’s movements. Image credit: Movebank. Click to enlarge.

The work is being led by NC State faculty Ted Simons, who is part of the NC Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, and Roland Kays, who has a joint appointment at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

The current project began with an immature bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), which was rescued by Dr. Joni Gnyp of the Cape Fear Raptor Center in 2014. The two-year-old female eagle, nicknamed “Yangchen,” was weak and emaciated when recovered – and subsequent analyses by Shea Tuberty at Appalachian State University indicated relatively high levels of zinc and lead in the bird’s blood.

After being nursed back to health, Yangchen was fitted with a 48-gram solar-powered GPS transmitter and released in early January 2015.

Since her release, Yangchen has moved between Wilmington and Albemarle Sound, focusing her activity near Bath and Aurora, North Carolina, where she is making extensive use of reclaimed phosphate pits and catfish ponds in the area.

Recent maps of the bird’s movements are available to the public and updated four times a day by Movebank.  The scientists are hoping to track the immature bird to follow migratory movements, pair formation, and nesting behavior over the next several years.

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  1. I spotted a bald eagle in northwest Cabarrus county on Parkmont road. It was on the side of the road trying to carry a small animal that was just large enough that it could not gain any altitude. This sighting was at about 9:30 am on 12-09-19

  2. I just saw a bald eagle from my back deck and we live right off of Prince George Creek. The eagle was small in size and flew down the creek toward the Northeast Cape Fear and I lost sight around the curve in the creek .

  3. Saw a BIG bald eagle as we were driving west on Hwy 158 near Grandy, today. It was eyeing up carrion alongside the road, but the traffic kept it from landing. SO beautiful and majestic!! Was a sign as I am thinking of moving here from SW Florida where we have Harriet and M15 that I follow closely.

  4. I saw a bald eagle today while I was driving on highway 58 between Kinston and Snow Hill. The eagle was beside the highway and as I got closer, it took flight. Before the eagle took flight, the white head caught my attention. When it was flying away, I saw the white tail feathers. I was so excited!! I wish I could have stopped to take a picture. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Such a beautiful bird!

  5. Saw three Bald Eagles yesterday, 11/10/18, between Snow’s Cut and Carolina Beach Inlet. All at the same time in the same area. Went 52 years and never saw one, now have seen 4 in less than a year. Kudos to the NC Wildlife program that reintroduced them back in the 90’s.

  6. November 1, 2018
    Saw a large bald eagle taking off from the shoulder of the road in Pink Hill in Lenoir County early this morning. All I can say is “Gorgeous!”

  7. There are two eagles seen multiple times in Brandywine Bay in Morehead City (and not far from Garner’s Farm mentioned above). One with white head and tail feathers and the other still brown. A beautiful and rare sight!

  8. My husband and i were fishing in the newport river behind garners farm and we saw a beautiful bald eagle fly over. It was so awesome to see. April 28th 2018 at 11 am newport nc

  9. Yesterday, April 16th, 2018 on the southern tip of Masonboro Island saw a Bald Eagle, sitting on a stump, just after successful fish catching sessions, then took off heading North West

  10. I’m a student here at NC State and I saw a bald eagle fly over lake Raleigh while canoeing around 3:30pm.

  11. We say a bald eagle today near South Central HS in Wi terville, NC. He was in the road, enjoying some fresh roadkill. He kept enjoying his feast as we rolled by. We were stunned to see such a majestic bird so close up in the wild. Never saw one outside of captivity before. It was very cool.

  12. I saw my first bald eagle in my life at Catfish Lake in Croatan National Forest, February 24, 2018. Kayaking along the western edge of the lake. I saw a bald eagle launch out of a tree ahead of me. He flew along the edge of the lake. as I paddled further along, it was with another bald eagle in a pine tree. As I got closer they both took off. As I paddled further, one of the eagles was with a smaller eagle. he smaller eagle did not have the white plumage on the head and tail. Eventually I got too close to the two of them for their comfort and they took off as well. One time the smaller eagle cruised above me to my right. Real cool experience.

  13. Saw one with my kids today while boating on the ICW about 2 miles north of Carolina Beach inlet. It landed on a dock piling and sat there calmly while we made a couple of slow passes to watch it. Then he’d had enough and took off. Huge wingspan! I’m 52 and it was my first sighting. Very cool!

  14. This is Funny . I live in Germanton nc on a 100 yr flood lake , I seen this big Bird. My first Thought was it was a Red Tail Hawk, but it had a much bigger wing Spand on it, so l look closer and yep it was my first Amerian Bald Eagle I saw come down on the water and to a fish out of the lake, I just wish I had my phone to take a few photos,
    that was 3 weeks ago. So yesterday I was coming back from Asheboro NC. on I-74/73 and I looked over to the right in a field, and I saw this big tower, and it was an Eagle Nest, with an Eagle inside it !! what I was wondering . could this be the same Eagle that I saw 3 weeks before?

  15. I saw eagle day 12-1-17 being run off by family hawks I have been seeing on 101 Beaufort N.C. across from airport. The sounds and the beauty of their interaction caught both myself and German Shepherd’s amazement. Hope see it again!!!!!

  16. I saw a beautiful bald eagle this morning about 8:00 in Rocky Mount. He was sitting on a fence and then fly to top of a tree. He sat there for about 1 1/2 hours until the limb broke and he moved further into the trees. Beautiful sight.

  17. I think I just saw a bald eagle near Mayfaire/Military Cutoff in Wilmington. Flew right over traffic then headed east towards the woods near Sir Tyler Drive.

  18. My husband & I saw a beautiful bald eagle yesterday. We were fishing around the mouth of North Creek in the Pamlico river, which is right across from the phosphate plant in Aurora, NC.

  19. We saw 2 very big bald eagles flying in circles above a smaller bald eagle in a tree yesterday 10/22/17 down town wilmington nc just across the cape fear river from the state port.

  20. Was amazed to see a Bald Eagle fly across Old Hwy 58 right in front of my car about
    7:40 PM on July 18th…..just about 1/2 mile from the bridge between Cape Carteret
    and Emerald Isle..

  21. I live in Greene Co. I had a sighting 2 years ago on Hwy. 91. Same location in Feb. 2017.
    And on 4/9/17 on Hwy. 264 right by my house! They are so majestic to watch! And easily discernable from buzzards! Beautiful! I don’t know if it could be the same one? But there are plenty of ponds here.

  22. There is at least one Bald Eagle living at Lake Myra on Poole Road in Wendell. This is a private lake that only has access on one side, so the back of the lake is full on trees and secluded. A perfect eagle haven. If your team decides to go, I would love to join you!!! I have taken a few pictures. Not sure if its the same eagle or more than one.

    1. A Bald Eagle took something from a pine tree in my neighbors yard this afternoon. It was medium in size and flew to the top of a pine approx 600 feet away. It was large enough to knock a small dead branch into the road as it flew through the pine over my head.

  23. I saw a beautiful Bald Eagle this morning about 745 am on Stag Park Road near Bannerman Vineyard in Burgaw. Never saw one and it was gorgeous. Had no clue they were here.

  24. I saw 2 bald eagles (or possibly the same one twice) fly to an established nest on old topsail Creek near Hampstead. Previously I was concerned that the nest had been abandoned.

  25. I saw a Bald Eagle in Craven Co. North Carolina,just outside of Vanceboro where Streets Ferry Road meets Piney Neck Road. I saw it flying over a small pond, they’re a lot bigger than I imagined.

  26. saw one standing on the side of the road as i came around a curve in pamlico county bout a month ago..absolutly beautiful! and massive bird..

    1. End of mid August 2016 we saw a mature bald eagle standing on the side of 74/76 East bound a few miles from I-95. We couldn’t believe our eyes, caught off guard in seeing one, so unexpected. No other vehicles were around I wish I would have taken a picture. It was proud and strong looking. Absolutely beautiful, as if it was symbolically standing guard over the area

  27. Kayaking on Sapony Creek in Nash County , NC yesterday and saw a huge bowl shaped nest with an Eagle and 2 babies!!!!!!!! So exciting!

  28. Just seen a Bald Eagle off of Brices Creek Rd. located in Pollocksville, NC. It was near the Island Creek Forest walk trail. I believe it had its eye on the fresh road kill, but it flew away when I drove by. Beautiful sight, was unaware that we had them here in Eastern NC.

  29. Today, Saturday April 2 around 6:30 a.m. as I was having my coffee, the sea gulls were making such a chatter that as I got up to get my second cup, I noticed a large bird on my pier,no other birds around. As i continued to look I saw the head turn to the side and determined it to be an eagle. I went to my computer to be sure and there he was.Bald Eagle. It was raining and I was unable to get a picture but continued to watch this great bird until it flew away. It must have had a wing span of 5-6 feet., white tail feathers and white head. I live on the intercoastal waters of Bogue S.ound near Morehead City .Majestic sight that I will never see again

  30. 6 MARCH 2016 Today I saw a bald eagle in the JENNY LIND area of lenior county. It was sitting in the road (in a curve) snacking on a recent road kill. Possum .As I approched,it flew off about 75 yards an perched in a tree,,,First one i have ever seen in lenoir county,an i’ve lived here all my life (73)

  31. Blady settling on my property (hope-hope) just outside of Grimesland…first sighting 01/23/16, and again this evening when I got home… Majestic!

  32. We saw a Bald Eagle on 18 January 2016, flying west along the Cape Fear River near the Fish Traps at Raven Rock State Park.

  33. I saw a bald eagle in Randolph, NC. In HWY 42 S in between Little beane store road and moffit road. Today at 1030am

  34. We live in Rocky Hock on the Chowan River in Chowan Co. We are across from Keel Creek. We have been watching a pair of eagles for three years. We actually saw them teach a baby to fly by dropping him, catching him and repeating until the young one stopped screaming and flew. We feel blessed. We also see osprey and hawks but the eagles stand out with their white head and tail and chocolate brown body.

  35. I saw a bald eagle today, Friday, December 18th about 1:00 pm. It was on Henderson St., in New Bern, N.C. The eagle was on the ground in a person’s front yard. I was dropping off a child, right next door. I yelled to the kids in the bus, they all turned to look at it. They were shocked, just like me. The eagle saw us and quietly flew into a near tree.

  36. Saw a bald eagle fly to a large dead pine across the creek from my house today at about 1:00 pm, November 24, 2015. I live in Beaufort, Carteret County.

    1. Hey Carol, I live in Beaufort off of Hwy 101 and I saw a bald eagle fly over the highway as I was on my way home from work! I immediately googled bald eagles in coastal NC and saw your comments. I’ve never seen one in real life until tonight.

  37. Just saw a bald eagle across a small tidal creek behind our house in Beaufort, Carteret County. It flew to a dead large pine. So exiting to watch as it flew away. Such an impressive wing span.
    Today, November , 24, 2015

  38. Saw a full grown Baldy flying across Hi-way 53 ,pender county, 5 miles west of Maple hill. Angola bay game lands. Wow, My first live sighting. 11/15/2015.

  39. I do not know if this is one you are tracking, but I saw a Bald eagle fly across the roadway about 200 yards south of RL Lewis Rd on highway 87 in Brunswick county at 1pm on today Oct. 11, 2015