Tracking Bald Eagle MN72: 2017–2022

Bald Eagle MN18 PortraitBald Eagle #17-1181 [MN72] was a hatch-year male Bald Eagle who was admitted to the Center in May 2017 from Alexandria, Virginia. After three months of rehabilitation, the young bird was released at Mason Neck State Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.

MN72 was tracked for five years and offered amazing insight into the life of a young Bald Eagle. The eagle traveled to Canada and back in 2018, and in the following four years, made the annual trip each summer, returning to Virginia each fall. In September 2022, the transmitter voltage and activity levels dropped; biologists analyzed the data and concluded that MN72 had either died or dropped his tracking unit.


In the months following his release, MN72 explored the Potomac River, often crossing from Virginia to Maryland and back again.  He even occasionally was in the same area as Bald Eagle MN18, who was released on the same day at Mason Neck State Park. By late November, MN72 settled in a suitable habitat along the Potomac River in Charles County, Maryland, patrolling the 12-mile-wide peninsula.


In early 2018, MN72 remained in the area surrounding the Potomac River, exploring areas in Virginia and Maryland, including Zekiah Swamp Natural Environment Area, Fairview Beach, Widewater State Park, and Mason Neck State Park. He spent most of his time near small inlets and wetland creeks and often followed the shoreline along his travels. 

In June, the young eagle began flying north, covering about 100 miles in a single week. By late June, he had flown more than 250 miles north, and by early July, he flew another 300 miles to Quebec, Canada! Interestingly enough, fellow Bald Eagle MN18 also flew to Canada around the same time. By mid-July, MN72 arrived along the shoreline of the Saint-François River near Plage-Denoncourt, where he stayed until late October 2018. He then flew south, traveling more than 400 miles, and on November 24, he arrived at Potomac Heights, Maryland. Throughout his journey to Canada, he covered more than 1,300 miles. After returning to the Potomac River, MN72 returned to his previous pattern of behavior, making trips to places like Mason Neck State Park (his original release site!), but regularly returning to his preferred habitat near the Potomac River. 


MN72 remained around the Potomac River in early 2019, and in the spring, visited his old release site of Mason Neck State Park. In late June 2019, MN72 once again left Maryland and began a journey of more than 600 miles into Canada, returning to the same shoreline of the Saint-François River where he spent time in 2018. He frequented the same shallow cove, and spent July crisscrossing the Saint-François River, staying within a 10-mile radius until October. On October 10, he began the long journey home again, and arrived back to Indian Head, Maryland, on October 28.  MN72 settled in this area for the rest of the year,  regularly flying over both agricultural and suburban areas, taking different routes while exploring within about a five-mile-wide area. He also briefly visited his original release site Mason Neck State Park in November.


MN72 spent the first couple of months of 2020 in Indian Head, Maryland, and the surrounding area. In late February, he made a trip to Spotsylvania County, then flew almost 90 miles northeast to the Woodbridge area, before repeating the trip entirely. Throughout April, May, and June, he took a few trips into well-developed areas in Virginia, but always crossed the Potomac River and returned to Indian Head. In early July, MN72 started his annual trip to Quebec, Canada, and by mid-July, he arrived at his same familiar shoreline of the Saint-François River in Quebec.  

This year, he returned south sooner than he had in previous years: he began flying south in early October and arrived back around Indian Head, Maryland by October 29. For the rest of the year, he settled in this familiar area, regularly crossing the Potomac River and visiting Virginia before returning to his favored habitat. 


MN72 spent the first few months of 2021 flying between Indian Head, Maryland, and Spotsylvania, Virginia. For the fourth year in a row, MN72 started his annual trip to Quebec in early June, arriving in July. Before settling into the forested shoreline where the Saint-François and St Lawrence Rivers meet, he explored farther north near the city of Disraeli. Throughout this 84-mile adventure, he followed the contours of the Canard and Richelieu Rivers. By mid-July, he settled into his more familiar habitat along the Saint-François River, and similarly to previous years, he remained in this area throughout his time until fall. On September 29, he began his trip back to the Potomac. By November 16, he returned to Indian Head, Maryland. After returning home, he continued an old pattern of behavior, making regular trips across the Potomac, a few long trips to Virginia, and to his release site at Mason Neck State Park before returning to Indian Head, Maryland. 


At the beginning of 2022, MN72 continued his exploration of the Potomac River, though always returning to Indian Head, Maryland.  Compared to previous years, MN72 left for his annual trip to Canada late in the year, departing the area in mid-July. By August 5, he made it to a familiar location along the Saint-François River in southern Quebec. Similarly to previous years, he remained within a small range (roughly two miles wide), in an area of dense forests, tributaries, agricultural areas, and residential structures. 

In September, MN72’s tracking unit began to experience technical difficulties and ceased transmitting.  A biologist with Conservation Science Global, Inc. assessed the data and concluded that MN72 had either died sometime during September or dropped his tracking unit. The biologist noted that based on the location of the last transmission from his unit—Pierreville, Quebec, Canada—MN72's tracking unit was not recoverable. While we may never know exactly what happened to MN72 and the transmitter, the data that this eagle provided researchers with during the past five years has been extremely valuable.