Fact check: Map shows movement of around 20 eagles over several months

The claim: Map shows one eagle's 20-year flight path

Researchers sometimes attach GPS tracking devices to wild animals to learn more about their behavior. Some social media users are sharing a map that they claim shows the flight path of one eagle over 20 years.

"This map shows the movement of an eagle over a period of twenty years," reads the caption of a Nov. 2 Instagram post featuring the map. "It had the tracker fitted in Russia and it finally died twenty years later in the Valley of the Child in Saudi Arabia. It is very interesting to see just how far this Eagle travelled (sic) over its twenty years of life and the great distances it travelled (sic) crossing many countries."

The map shows an array of lines tracing as far north as Kazakhstan and as far south as Sudan

In addition to the map, the post's reel included a picture of a dead eagle with a GPS tracking device attached to its back. It also includes a picture of a live eagle with a similar device attached.

The post garnered nearly 70,000 likes in less than a month. Similar claims also spread on Facebook.

But the post is wrong. The map shows the movements of around 20 eagles over several months, according to the researcher tracking the birds.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media users who shared the post for comment.

Follow us on Facebook! Like our page to get updates throughout the day on our latest debunks

Map shows the movement of many birds over several months

Rather than a lifetime of movement by one eagle, the map in the social media post shows the fall migration of around 20 steppe eagles, according to Todd Katzner, a wildlife biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey who tracked the animals.

The eagles' population is thought to be in rapid decline, and the tracking project was intended to gather information for potential conservation efforts, he told USA TODAY.

The map featured in the social media post was preliminary and shows less than a year's worth of data, he said. Some 20 birds were originally tagged for the tracking effort, but some animals died and some trackers stopped working as the study progressed.

Katzner said he believes all 20 eagles are represented in the map on social media, but the final research paper associated with the study only reported the fall migration behavior of 15 birds.

The picture of the living eagle with the attached tracking device was taken by Katzner's team and shows a roughly 60-day-old bird.

The photo of the dead eagle was not taken by Katzner's team, he said. However, Katzner confirmed the bird was one that was monitored in his study.

Katzner said he doesn't know how the bird had died, but he "was alerted by email to the fact that the eagle was found dead."

Katzner said he then explained the study in that email, but the details apparently became confused and ended up incorrectly "spreading as 20 years of data from a single eagle," Katzner said.

The feather coloration and pattern of the birds pictured in the social media post confirm that they are young, not 20-year-old animals, he said.

The post was also debunked by AFP.

Fact check: Viral image doesn't show oldest known land animal

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that a map shows one eagle's 20-year flight path. The map shows the movement of around 20 eagles over several months.

Our fact-check sources:

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim map shows one eagle's 20-year flight path