Family’s gift will help grow bald eagle population, biologists say

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CORDOVA, Illinois-- With just enough light to see two feet ahead, these early birds bait the traps.

"Hopefully today Friday the 13th we'll have our stroke of luck," says U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services biologist Sara Schmuecker.

A deer carcass or some shad fish is a meal fit for the king of the sky, the bald eagle.

The group is allowed to catch eagles for a migration study. Researchers use data from the solar transmission boxes to study travel patterns and how the birds navigate man made things such as wind turbines.

Scientists capture birds either on land or on the Mississippi River. Once one is caught, the crew handles it for about an hour, taking various measurements and tests, and of course, putting on the solar tracking device. It fits over its wings like a back pack and weighs less than a tenth of the bird's weight.

But the group has some special guests on Friday, a family who donated a solar tracking device to the cause. They did it with a past eagle enthusiast in mind.

"When I was little, one of the fun weekend things we would do is drive around during eagle season and watch eagles," says Dana Manternach.

The solar tracking device is donated in her father's name. Don Davis lived in Davenport. He shared his love of bald eagles with his family whenever he got the chance. Don lost his battle to brain cancer last July.

On Friday, the crew came out empty handed. And they say that's okay.

"It's not a wasted day by any means. We have learned so much from people who dedicate so much of their life to such an important beast. We will be back tomorrow. My mom and niece want to come. It's a real family effort," says Manternach.

It's also a family tradition that's reaching new heights.

The research project has been going on for the past four years. Scientists have placed 31 trackers so far, and they hope to place 30 more by the end of this eagle season.