When you think of North American wildlife, I bet the beloved and majestic bald eagle is one of the first images that pops into your mind. The bald eagle was chosen as the national symbol of the United States back in 1782 and is one of the largest predatory birds in our country, as well as one of our greatest conservation success stories.
Due to reproductive issues caused by the pesticide DDT, shooting and poisoning in the mid to late 1990s, this species’ population dropped significantly and was finally listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1978. Thanks to recovery efforts including the banning of DDT, the bald eagle made a huge comeback and was removed from the Endangered Species list in 2007. Now, their signature brown bodies and ‘bald’ white feathered heads can be seen soaring over nearly all of North America. Here at the Zoo, we have two beautiful, female bald eagles acting as ambassadors for their wild relatives.
The older eagle of the pair, Gussy, 22, is the likely culprit of high pitched, piping vocalizations (a sound quite different from the call of the red-tailed hawk, which often replaces the sound of eagles you hear in films). This girl isn’t afraid of anything…except maybe a stern look. As soon as she spots a keeper coming near her habitat (and, in her mind, there’s no doubt this habitat is hers), she tosses her head back and calls as loudly as she can as she flaps her wings in a display meant to impress and intimidate. But a simple stare down is usually enough to help her decide to play nice. This feisty girl came to the Zoo from Last Chance Forever in Texas, a raptor rehabilitation facility and sanctuary that discovered her after she had been shot in her left wing. Unfortunately, they were unable to save her wing and it had to be partially amputated, making her unable to fly or be returned to the wild.
Star is the second bald eagle who also came to the Zoo from Last Chance Forever. Due to her injuries, it was believed that she was struck by a vehicle. The damage to her left wing was extensive and, sadly, her caretakers were forced to fully amputate it. Star is less vocal and more timid than her roommate Gussy. It is rare for her to initiate vocalizations when a keeper is in sight, although she will often accompany Gussy. Star is more likely to move away from a keeper inside the habitat than try to scare the keeper away.
By law, all fully functioning eagles must be returned to the wild. These two girls, like all bald eagles in zoo environments, were deemed un-releasable due to their injuries which made it impossible for them to hunt and survive. The Zoo will be Gussy and Star’s home for the rest of their lives. They live in a wide, uncovered habitat in Oklahoma Trails where they have logs and perches to sit on, a pool to bathe in, and are fed a variety of items throughout the week including herring, rats, rabbits and chicks.
– Andrea Brenner, animal caregiver