Eagle 1 story


The original Oklahoma traveler story board was written by award winning photo journalist Scott Thompson. Scott went along and chronicled the story of our first eagle. Words cannot express our gratitude for his wonderful piece.


The winter of 2000 was particularly harsh.  Southeast Oklahoma was severely  impacted.

Lake Clayton was frozen over, and this caused a severe hardship for Eagles who fished the lake for food.

A bald eagle had to resort to eating road-kill.

Eagles are heavy and take off slowly, and unfortunately a passing truck could not avoid hitting the eagle.  However the truck driver did pick up the severely injured eagle and spent considerable effort finding a veterinarian in Poteau.  

The veterinarian in Poteau did the best she could to stabilize the eagle, and two game rangers drove icy roads to get the eagle to Tulsa.

Paul Welch, DVM
Doctor Paul Welch, a noted Avian and Wildlife veterinarian, called to indicate he had just received the Eagle, and was taking x-rays.
The bald eagle's right wing was broken in three places, and Dr. Welch pinned them in in hopes they would heal properly.
The Siftar's took the Eagle to their Rehabilitation facility, outside of  Tulsa, where she could spend some time healing.
The Eagle would have to adjust to living in captivity while it healed.
 "The first time I handed him food and he took it from me I was in love. I mean that bird, it was such a trust for him to trust me and it's just been so rewarding."

 Fortunately the eagle's temperament was such that it adjusted well, and the four weeks preceding the follow-up veterinarian check passed uneventfully.

Four weeks later when Dr. Welch removed the pins, he realized that two of the breaks had healed, but the third had not. He knew it was a long shot, but given it was an Eagle he did the best he could, but this time it didn't turn out as everyone had hoped. 

We were faced with a tough decision. We had to euthanize the eagle or remove the wing. 


We have to have Federal approval to euthanize, and the permits office was closed, and the eagle might adjust to life with out part of her wing. We couldn't keep the Eagle, once it's wing was amputated.  Federal law generally prohibits rehabbers from having a non-releasable bird. 

We thought it was going to be releaseable, you have the vision in your mind of an eagle flying away. 

We knew we couldn't keep the eagle, so had to find a good home, for a flightless bird with a good temperament. 

Two months prior, we had read an Article about the Zuni Indians in New Mexico, having a Eagle Aviary, and a friend sent us a pointer to the article.

After making a call to Steve Albert, the biologist with the Zuni fish and wildlife department, we decided the Zuni offered a good home.  Permits were submitted, and approved.

April 26, 2001 American Airlines graciously supplied a MD-80,  that was finished with routine maintenance. At great expense AA offered us a first class ride to New Mexico. When shipping animals, it's important to have a non-stop flight, but no Airline had one from Tulsa, to Albuquerque. American flies to their Dallas hub, and then to Albuquerque, but this day they went directly there.

Our first stop was the Albuquerque Zoo. The eagle had to pass a medical exam to be admitted to New Mexico. Noted wildlife veterinarian Dr. Ned Gentz, with the Albuquerque Zoo, volunteers his time.  The eagle gets a good bill of health, and it's off for a two hour ride to Zuni.

 At the border of the Zuni Indian reservation, we stop and the Eagle is physically transferred to the Zuni.

 Zuni medicine man Octavius Seowtwa performs a private purification ceremony for the eagle.

Octavius Seowtwa, Zuni Medicine Man: "Evil thoughts or anything of that nature would be purified here before it comes into the reservation."

Our Eagle would live it's life in a one-of-a-kind flight cage, built of native pine and stone. The Zuni need feathers for their cultural and religious ceremonies. This is a perfect situation for the eagle, the Zuni and the rehabber with a non-releasable bird. Seldom in the rehab world do we get the opportunity for a win-win scenario.

Barton Martza, Zuni Lt. Governor (2001)

The Zuni tribe is gathering crippled and unwanted birds and picking up their feathers as they naturally molt. 

Barton Martza, Zuni Lt. Governor (2001): "Zuni Tribe now has what they've been always wanting is eagle feathers to carry out their traditions and customs. "

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1987 restored the Native American's right to have Eagle feathers. Eagles and their feathers are sacred, and eagle feathers are used in ceremonies by almost every tribe. However the process for obtaining them from the federal government can take over three years. All eagle feathers are required to be sent to a repository in Colorado and Indians have to request them. The Zuni pioneered a way to have their own renewable supply while caring for eagles.
"This would be a great project for tribes in Oklahoma," says John Antonio, the Region 2 Native American Liaison with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Albuquerque office. That's why John would like to see Oklahoma tribes build flight cages like the Zuni have.  Other tribes have expressed an interest.

When Scott asked,  "is there were enough eagles to go around so tribes could do this" - John replied, "From what we understand from the various rehabbers nationwide, they wish they could place the birds and sometimes there's no place for them and so they end up having to put them under."

John Antonio of the Department of Interior and Scott Thompson.
Our Oklahoma Eagle was released into the Zuni flight cage, along with about 14 other eagles, most non-flighted, with various injuries that prevent them from being released.  Nelson Luna takes care of the eagles on a day to day basis and it is a great honor and privilege for him.
Just after Nelson released the Oklahoma Eagle into the Zuni aviary a little sprinkle fell down.  Scott Thompson asked Nelson if he noticed, the rain.
Nelson Luna, Zuni Fish & Wildlife Service: "Yeah, that's a good thing because we feel that when we have precip our forefathers are here letting us know that their presence is here by the rain. Our forefather's spirits are letting us know that it's a good thing we've accomplished here today. "

Now it was time to say our goodbye's.

Gary and Kathy take one last glance as they prepare to leave. "You're gonna be OK, yeah, you are, I love you, you take care," Kathy whispers to the bird.  "Have a good life," 

We knew we couldn't keep her,  yet now, with Scott Thompson's video story we will have memories to share for a lifetime.

Oklahoma Raptor Center  Copyright 2002