Kauai’s golden eagle

In February 1967, Jack Harter, the owner and pilot of Kauai Helicopters Co., saw a golden eagle soaring above Waimea Canyon while flying his tour helicopter — the first sighting of the only golden eagle ever reported being seen in Hawaii.

By May, he’d sighted it many times, most often at Kokee, and hunters also observed it in Waimea Canyon.

Then on May 19, 1967, the eagle, which had almost certainly originated in North America, was definitely identified by wildlife biologist Gerald Swedberg at Kokee while the bird flew over Waimea Canyon for about 15 minutes and came as close as 25 yards to Swedberg.

Swedberg estimated the eagle to be 3 years old, with a 7-foot wingspan, but he could not distinguish its sex and neglected to photograph it — and no picture of the eagle is known to exist.

Harter continued to see the bird every now and then over the next two years, mostly in the vicinity of Olokele and Waimea canyons, and once by Mount Haupu above Nawiliwili, when it flew directly toward Harter’s helicopter, causing him to veer off to avoid a collision.

In May 1975, the golden eagle had not been noticed by anyone for 18 months, when Kauai visitor Stanley Berge caught sight of it during a helicopter flight over Mount Waialeale.

Later that year, it was spotted flying from Niihau to Kauai, just before it disappeared once again for several months.

Then in December 1976, wildlife biologist Tom Telfer recognized it in Hanapepe Valley and in Waimea Canyon.

Jack Harter laid eyes on it again in May 1977, flying near cliffs below Mount Waialeale.

At last, Kauai’s golden eagle, which had made the Garden Isle its home for 17 years and was estimated to be 22 or 23 years of age, was killed when it attacked a helicopter in upper Hanapepe Valley and was shattered by the chopper’s spinning blades one day during the last week of May 1984.

Although the aircraft shuddered upon impact, it suffered no damage and pilot and passengers were unhurt.

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