Eagle Soars to Stardom With West Coast Flight

It's a long trip from Santa Catalina Island to Washington, even as the eagle flies


Only Avalon the eagle really knows why she decided to fly 1,000 miles from the paradise of Santa Catalina Island to the Pacific Northwest in the cold of winter earlier this year.

The difficult journey resulted in a broken wing, and in the end the eagle who soared to fame on her wings and a webcam wound up back in Southern California. But this time, the wildlife starlet is getting ready for a new role.

She is being trained as an Ambassador Eagle at Ojai Raptor Center (ORC). Eventually, she will become part of the center's educational programs.

"It's pretty amazing, these instincts these birds have," said ORC director Kim Stroud. "They will just take off and go. Some go to Colorado, some to Washington, some go back to Alaska. They have that instinctual flight pattern, but both of her parents have been on Catalina for 25 years."

The injured Avalon was rescued from a muddy field near Duvall, Wash. and brought to Sarvey Wildlife Care Center. Avalon's tags -- she is eagle K04 -- and radio transmitter indicated the she was being tracked by researchers, so Sarvey clinic director Leslie Henry and her team knew someone would be interested in the eagle's location.

She soon found out, a lot of people were interested.

"I can definitely say we were all surprised at the Facebook following and the constant care and concern for her," said Henry.

As of Wednesday, Avalon had 200 friends on Facebook. Many of her friends have watched Avalon and other Santa Catalina Island eagles hatch, grow and fledge on the Institute for Wildlife Studies eagle nest webcams.

Avalon picked up a few more eaglecam fans during her stay in Washington, Henry said.

The once-spirited eagle, part of the Two Harbors nest in 2010, was emaciated and lethargic when she arrived at Sarvey Wildlife Care Center. Her left wing fracture was fragmented into pieces, which had already healed in place.

The wing injury suggests she flew into a powerline or was struck by a vehicle.
"That explains why she was so thin," said Henry. "She progressed much faster than we had initially hoped, gaining weight and becoming more active and lively. Unfortunately, the wing was shortened at the humerus and we were saddened when it became obvious that she would not be released due to the wing injury."

Stroud learned of Avalon's rescue through a network of wildlife care centers, and she was already familiar with Henry's facility. Stroud placed two birds at the Sarvey clinic two years ago.

"I found out she was from Catalina, so this is home," Stroud said.

Arrangements were made for a flight home, this time on an airplane. The Ambassador Eagle training process will require a significant time investment from volunteers at the raptor center, just part of a long-term committment for the non-profit facility -- eagles typically live up to 60 years in captivity.

"She is very wild -- she's not tame at all," said Stroud, adding that Avalon was simply left alone for two weeks so she could settle in to her new home, a 30-foot aviary. "We got her in August, and she's settling down now. But for a while she was jumping into netting."

The center's goal is rehabilitation and release of wild animals. About 1,500 animals are brought to the facility annually and 60 percent are released back into the wild.

But Avalon's injured wing means she cannot fly the long distances covered by eagles in the wild. She will work with Stroud and volunteer Mike McLellan, who can enter the cage, sit with Avalon and approach her with food -- fish are a large part of the diet, but Avalon seems partial to rats and quail.

It's a ritual that required hundreds of hours before Avalon became comfortable with McLellan. The team is looking forward to the day that Avalon, without a hood, sits on a gloved hand.

"That means trust and comfortableness with the handler, establishing a trust relationship so they know they're safe with whoever they're with," Stroud said.

As the training progresses, Avalon will be introduced to other humans, dogs, a transport crate and other things she might encounter outside the raptor center, including wide-eyed stares from people who are meeting an eagle for the first time.

"They're just in awe," Stroud said. "To be that close to an eagle, it's pretty spectacular."

An open house is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m., Nov. 5 at the Ojai Raptor Center. Visit the center's website for information.

Avalon and her nest-mates are part of a larger story on Santa Catalina Island. Pesticides, primarily DDT, dumped in the ocean nearby the Channel Islands from the late 1940s until the early 1960s are directly linked to the  decline of animals inhabiting the region.

Since 2007, six pairs of bald eagles have produced an average of two hatchlings a year without outside help on Santa Catalina Island. It was only until recently that eggs on the island had to be removed from the mother and artificially incubated.

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