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In Memoriam: 37-Year-Old Golden Eagle, Ithaca

Golden Eagle named
Grier flying a still subadult-plumaged Ithaca in 1972. Photo courtesy James Grier.

It was with sadness and appreciation we recently heard of the death, at the whopping age of 37, of a Golden Eagle named Ithaca. Jim Grier, now an emeritus professor at North Dakota State University, participated in the captive breeding of Ithaca and two eaglet siblings while he was a graduate student at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, in 1972. The three birds were the first-ever Golden Eagles produced by artificial insemination, a technique then being explored to help captive breeding programs of endangered raptors. The work of Grier and his adviser, Tom Cade, later gave rise to the Peregrine Fund.

In late September, Ithaca succumbed to complications from West Nile virus, which he contracted in 2002. He had a long and distinguished life (by comparison, the oldest known wild Golden Eagle was 28 years old). Highlights included appearing on the Johnny Carson show in the late 1970s, as well as in presentations and live demonstrations to college students and others. Dr. Grier has posted an in memoriam Web page with more information and a series of excellent photos of Ithaca from his first hours to late in his life. It’s well worth a visit. Our sympathies go out to Grier and the rest of eagle Ithaca’s extended family.

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library