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Ron Joseph's Golden Eagle Banding

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

Ron Joseph, author of the recently released Bald Eagles, Bear Cubs and Hermit Bill, and his former field assistant, Kent Keller, reconnected this May to band golden eagles once again. In 1978, Ron began his career as a state and federal wildlife biologist, mostly in Maine, but also for a time in New Hampshire and Utah. It was in that lattermost state that Ron's golden eagle banding took off; he banded there with Keller from 1978 to 1984.

Bald Eagles, Bear Cubs and Hermit Bill is a collection of stories that recounts Ron's youth in central Maine, the importance of his family's dairy farm, and his adventures in the field over the course of a career that spanned more than three decades. One particular focus during his career was the restoration of endangered species. He is now retired, but continues to speak, volunteer, and lead birding trips.

Briefly mentioned in his memoir, Ron's time banding golden eagles in Utah with Kent Keller was the start of a golden eagle banding project of nearly half a century. Keep reading to learn more about the species and the project.


The following photos were taken in western Utah by Kent Keller, Ron’s former golden eagle field assistant, who has state and federal eagle banding licenses.


Over the course of almost fifty years, Ron and Kent documented a significant decline in golden eagle production in west central Utah. The average number of annual banded eaglets has greatly dropped: around one hundred or more eaglets in the 1980s to between twenty and thirty banded eaglets in recent years.

They’ve attributed this decline to “invasive cheatgrass, conversion of sagebrush steppes to livestock grazing lands, and rapid urban sprawl west from Salt Lake City, Orem, and Provo [which] is causing a sharp decline of black-tailed jackrabbit populations—the primary prey of golden eagles.” The detrimental effect on their food source means less eaglets and more abandoned adult eagle nesting territories. Several people have been caught stealing eaglets as well.

Banding eaglets allows Ron and Kent to do more than just record new births: the act allows them to monitor the longevity and the movements of the populations. An example of this is the oldest recorded golden eagle in North America. The two men banded this female eagle in 1980 and she was struck and killed by a vehicle just two months shy of thirty-two.

Fun Fact

Female golden eagles are substantially heavier and larger than their male counterparts, which is true across all ages. The 45-day-old dark feathered eaglet Ron is holding in the photo to the right was determined to be female based on talon and tarsus—the “foot”/lowest part of the leg— measurements.


Want to read more about Ron’s adventures with birds and other wildlife? Purchase a copy of his memoir, Bald Eagles, Bear Cubs and Hermit Bill at the link below.

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