Tribune-Courier General Manager
Ran Guennel of Gilbertsville recalls his first glimpse of an eagle soaring in flight in January. It was a chance sighting as he and his wife where driving along U.S. 62 in Calvert City.
“I happened to look out into a field and there was an American Bald Eagle. It was so beautiful to see as it soared past the tree line. We tried to follow it, taking various roads but finally lost sight of it,” said Guennel. “I was hooked.”
Several months of monitoring and taking photographs of three eaglets ended in tragedy, though, as Guennel learned last week the young birds were electrocuted by contact with power lines.
Two of the eagles were discovered by employees of the state plantation in Gilbertsville on July 31 and the third was found on Aug. 2. The incident was reported to federal agents of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Special Agent Bob Snow of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Division of Law Enforcement could not comment specifically on the incident at the Sheriff’s Ranch, calling it an open investigation. He did say there are specific actions that are taken when an American Bald Eagle dies due to unnatural causes.
The bird was taken off the federal endangered species list in 2007, but America’s national symbol is a protected species, with prohibition of “taking,” which includes harming the birds or causing interference with their natural lifestyle. Possession of birds or their parts, including feathers, is forbidden without specific permits.
Snow confirmed there are an average six to 12 eagle deaths each year in Kentucky due to electrocution and his agency works with power companies to develop an avian protection plan to identify areas within their systems that may put wildlife at risk.
Jamie Sears, communications coordinator with West Kentucky Rural Electric, confirmed the utility company has already installed insulators with bird guard and bird wire in the area where the eagles died.
Sears said the company is also in contact with U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials to identify other high-risk lines in the area and is taking measures to make them safe as well.
Snow said deceased eagles are sent to the United States Eagle Repository in Denver, Colo. He said feathers and other parts of the eagles are given to Native Americans through their treaties with the U.S.
After the first sighting, Guennel, an amateur photographer, went in search of opportunities to capture pictures of the birds in flight. In April, he discovered the nest of eaglets near the Kentucky Sheriffs Association Boys and Girls Ranch in Gilbertsville.
He and his wife, Eileen, first photographed them as tiny birds too unsteady to leave the nest.
The Guennels returned monthly until mid-July, watching the birds grow into juveniles.
During one of his visits to the nest, Guennel was able to get pictures of the adult eagles taking fish to the nest to feed the young ones. Guennel said it was a sight he will never forget.
“In July they started walking around the edge of the nest, flapping their wings,” he said. “They did this for several weeks before they started taking short flights and landing in surrounding trees.”
When Guennel and his wife returned to the nest Wednesday, he was told by state maintenance workers the three eagles had been electrocuted when they landed on power lines in the area.