What’s In A Name? Eagles and Falcons

From John Howe:

“You have asked us how we identify names for the raptors we follow. I can assure you that the eagles and falcons don’t care if they are called by a name or not. That is a human thing. However, we need to have a way to identify birds as we collect and share data. In the case of peregrine falcons, landowners and cooperative partners assign names as they please. In the case of eagles, we assign an identifier to them and avoid human names. So why do we give falcons, but not eagles, human names?


Bob Anderson, the founder of the Raptor Resource Project, bred peregrine falcons for release into the wild. He let landowners and power plant guardians name falcons to increase buy-in for the program and help develop partners. Let’s face it, assigning a name to a rare bird is a pretty exciting thing…the fastest animal and top gun on the face of the earth, just WOW! Back in the 1990s, falcons were critically endangered and getting to name this super rare bird after your wife/mom/daughter/husband/son/dad/whatever, was exciting and helped engage participants in the cause. You can imagine how important it was to recruit partners and put a vision into action to reach the goal – anything to make that extra effort leading to success. It’s hard to believe now, but we have to remember that falcons didn’t return to breed mid-continent until 1987. Landowners and families get to see falcons up close, connect with them, sometimes touch or hold them, and name them to recognize their role in supporting falcon recovery and individual falcon families.


The eagle ‘names’ that we use come from basic scientific protocol: an ID that corresponds to place and number. In 2011, the eaglets were E1, E2, and E3 (Eaglet1 etc.), as named by mods and fans. The second year, Bob replaced the E with a D for Decorah and caught up the long count: D12, D13, and D14. Outside of a few of the eaglets we’ve tracked (D1, who was believed to be E2, Four, who was named for the last number of her rig), we’ve kept that convention. It is widely used in research and easy for us to use and remember. Will we ever give our eagles names instead of ID’s? We’re not ruling it out, but we don’t have any plans right now.

Right now:

  • The Decorah Eagles are Mom and DM2 (Decorah Male 2). Dad, Mom’s first mate, disappeared following a snowstorm in April of 2018. Mom accepted DM2 the following fall. We believe that 2019 marked his first year as a father.
  • The Decorah North Eagles are Mr. North and DNF (Decorah North Female). Mr. North’s first mate disappeared in 2018. Mr. North accepted DNF as a mate the following fall. We believe that 2019 marked her first year as a mother.
In Short…

Landowners and power plant staff get to name falcons because it encourages recovery efforts and because these are truly their birds, on their property. Power plants didn’t have to say yes to providing a home to one of the world’s most endangered birds in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, but they did, and that made a big difference in the species’ recovery. When it comes to eagles, we’re engaged in a longitudinal study of eagle behavior at all at our nests and the nomenclature we use reflects that. Keeping a consistent naming standard for eagles provides us with uniformity across media and a long-term convention for identifying eagles and eaglets at the various nests we track.

Naming wild animals was controversial long before we started our work. Researchers tend to avoid names. Fans want to give them names. Everybody has a different idea about what they should or shouldn’t be called, from cute names (think ‘Simba’ and ‘Cookie’), through no names at all. The federal government database records all sorts of data about banded birds but has no space for names. State DNR’s have at times encouraged names and at other times prohibited them. This argument is really a tempest in a teapot. As Amy pointed out in a recent conversation on the topic, we are fortunate to be able to have a discussion about names versus laying flowers on the grave of the last peregrine falcon or bald eagle. The only name we never want to give to any member of a species? Last.

We understand the disappointment of people hoping for something more racy or familiar. When we watch our lovely parents – DM2 providing for his family, DNF tenderly feeding DN9 – we think of them as Dads and Moms. It’s jarring to think of them one way and call them something else. But the eagles by any name will still retain their dear perfection to us.”

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

Thank you for understanding, for watching, and for caring!