Getting Penny ready for release



Passage female golden eagle

Today starts the process of getting Penny ready for release; she is overdue for sure. Penny came to us by way of the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehab in Pendleton, Oregon, hence the name Penny, and had come to them after being hit by a truck. Penny had a slightly damaged wing near the last joint and was unable to fly well enough to escape being captured. After spending time in BMW’s flight chamber she seemed to be healing up fine but it was still difficult to determine if she could fly correctly or, in the least, well enough to be turned loose. We were contacted and agreed to fly Penny to see how she did and determine if she could be released. So starts the story of Penny.

My plan was to start Penny right away in training and get her on the wing. It was late spring and if I could get her in condition and all went well I felt I could release her in late summer when the weather was still good. Plans don’t always go as planned. Shortly after we received Penny I came down with West Nile Virus and was laid up all summer unable to do much other than feed the birds. Certainly training and flying a female eagle was not in the cards for this summer. I recovered at the end of summer and restarted Penny’s training, still hoping to release her as she is an older eagle in the three to five year range, meaning she is a capable hunter and should be able to care for herself.

It is an interesting thing that happens with eagles that are new to captivity and training. At first, naturally, they are frightened and under stress but as they come to realize you are providing food for them they tame down surprisingly fast. The pattern goes something like this: the eagle comes to us scared, angry and wanting to fight any and all creatures that come close. can’t blame them. And in most cases, depending on how long they have been held in captivity, they have not molted due to fear and stress. As I begin to train them and gain some trust they change. Sometimes it takes awhile because to them people are something to fear and, having been netted and poked and all the things that it takes to get them healed up, their fear of man has been confirmed over and over again. Then I come along and, instead of chasing them around with a net, I just feed them, and food is the direct route to an eagle’s heart. Once they settle down to a more relaxed routine their stress level drops way off and they molt, sometimes quite heavily. Well, that’s what Penny did. She dropped three primaries on each wing, effectively rendering her flightless and temporarily ending her flight training. I did not want to continue working with a mostly untrained eagle that had new primaries coming in and risk damaging one or more, so I shut Penny down again to allow her to complete her molt. By the time Penny was finished summer was just about done and releasing her as winter was coming seemed unfair so I decided to hold Penny over the winter, get her going early this spring and release her sometime late spring depending, of course, on how things went

March 14, 2009


I called Penny to the fist, something that she is quite familiar with having been started so many times already. Penny is a typical female golden eagle” not real pleased about working for food. This is not because female goldens are lazy, they are anything but lazy, it’s just that they are very smart and figure out real fast that you have the food and they want you to give it all to them now, all at once. They don’t see why they should have to jump to your glove over and over again for food. Penny, being a wild eagle that had been on her own for a few years, would have done what all female golden eagles do, find a male, follow him around and take food from him. That way they can put their energy into more important things like laying eggs. It’s a good plan but, for the purposes of training female golden eagles to fly and hunt, this attitude can be difficult to work through. So, Penny does things like this: she’ll fly over to me from about ten feet, gladly eat the reward and fly back to the perch, but then when I call her again she will turn her back to me and pout; it can take her three to four minutes before she finally decides to fly over again. Once she has thought about it she’ll come several more times nicely. Now, some would say drop her weight which would make her hungrier, but that is not the best way to train an eagle. Low weight equals significant health risk, most notably aspergilosis.

I called her six times, hooded her up, and returned her to the mews.

March 15, 2009


Photo: Penny on scale*

Penny on scale

In the early stages of training I believe that the training sessions should be kept short and sweet. I want to give the eagle time to realize what I want from her so today, much like yesterday, I weighed her and walked out of the mews weathering yard and jumped Penny onto a large boulder in our yard.

The wind was up (9-15mph) as we have a storm coming in and there was a slight drizzle falling. Now, combining wind with an untrained bird could cause some problems, as Penny will want to go with the wind. However, I just dealt with it. She did try and fly off a couple of times, landing on the grass at the end of the creance, but I just picked her up and put her back on the boulder and when she settled down she flew to me. So, a little bit of a rodeo today with the wind but, we’re still moving forward.

*The scale that Penny is on comes from Germany and is simply the best scale I have ever seen. It will box up into the perch and be protected while traveling. It will weigh anything up to 55 lbs. which means I can weigh all my raptors on it, from the 9.5 oz. perlins to the largest female eagle. This scale will be sold exclusively though our website: more info coming soon.

March 17, 2009

Wt. 9.49 lbs.

For a couple of days I have been jumping Penny onto the rock which has brought on some interesting changes in her behavior. When calling her off a standard perch, from which she knows that she cannot fly away, she is fine but on a rock, which to her is a more wild-like situation, she over- flies me most of the times I call her to the fist. I just go and return her to the rock where she pouts for a few moments and then she flies to the glove. I do not want to drop her weight; I’ll just keep working through this. Once she settles down she will be more willing to come longer and longer distances to the glove.

March 21, 2009

Wt. 9 lbs.

Penny has been acting just slightly overweight, so I skipped a day and did not feed her which made a difference.

I reintroduced the lure today and I was pleased that she reacted well to it. I put two quail legs on it which got her attention. I jumped her to the rock, threw out the lure and she immediately focused on it and flew to it, grabbed it and hauled it up to the rock. I then walked up to her and transferred her onto the glove with her meal. She did well. I am pleased. My thinking at this point is that I’ll just get her coming to the lure and not to the fist so much. As always, all things are subject to change, to be sure.

March 26, 2009

Wt. 9 lbs.


I did not work Penny yesterday as the wind was up over 20 mph and I thought it was best to wait for a day.

Today was a better day and my plan was to load Penny in the truck (she needs to get used to going for rides anyway) and take her out into one of our alfalfa hay fields where I can extend the distance she flies on a line. I take the block perch out into the field in the beginning because it is something they recognize and feel comfortable going to, plus I can place it anywhere I want. I walked over to the block which I had already placed in the field and unhooded her. She was excited about the breeze blowing in her face and bated off in the other direction, but regained the glove and then flew to the block. While I was getting all the lines in order she flew into the wind and landed about 50 ft. from the block. I tossed out the lure and she did not react other than to look at it. After a couple more tosses, however, she flew over and grabbed it. I stepped her up on the glove and walked her back to the block. I called her to the lure 6 more times and she responded nicely each time.

March 30, 2009

Wt. 9.3 lbs.


I have skipped a couple of days due to high winds but today was gorgeous and I prepared Penny for another training session. I called her about 50 yards to the lure, 5 or 6 times, and she did super. Tomorrow I will fly her free. This is a huge step for her on the road to freedom. Truthfully, I could have flown her free the last two times but she needs a considerable amount of conditioning and if she was to fly off I think the odds might not be in her favor. One sign I look for before flying an eagle free for the first time is how it reacts when the hood comes off out in the field. For example, the first time they look around and then want to leave, but as time goes on and they figure out what the deal is, things change. The last couple of days when her hood was removed Penny flew out into the field, landed on her own accord and turned looking for the lure. That’s how I know she is ready for free flight.

March 31, 2009

Wt. 9.3 lbs.

Cordi and I drove out into the sage to an area that we hoped would be good for Penny’s first free flight. The wind was up a bit but I did not think it would be a problem. I was wrong.

The area we chose is wide open with some hills on the east side but there is a huge grassland area. After changing her jesses to ones that are thinner and less likely to get hung up, and zip tying the transmitter onto one cuff, I carried Penny out into the field. I unhooded her and she launched off down- wind landing about 60 yards from me. I pulled out the lure and started to drag it along, wanting to call her in. She turned and launched into the wind and turned quickly downwind heading for the hills. Suddenly a female ferruginous hawk came from upwind and stooped her, hit her, and Penny was out of there. She caught the wind, climbed up and over the now bigger hills, and was gone. Cordi and I spent the next three hours tracking her in and around the mountains with the signal going from strong to weak to nothing. We finally located her out in a sage covered area that is loaded with game ducks, pheasants, quail and jack rabbits, and one very pissed off pair of red tailed hawks. It was the red tails that showed us where Penny was. We just simply watch them for a few minutes and, sure enough, they started to stoop on Penny. Red tails are good that way” if there is an eagle around they will be after it. I walked out into the sage heading in her direction but the moment she saw me she was gone. I could not get within a ¼ of a mile to her. I did notice, however, that when she was in the air I was getting a signal from the opposite direction, which meant that Penny and my transmitter were no longer connected. I tracked down my transmitter not far from where I was standing. That quickly she had removed the transmitter and is probably working on the jesses and cuffs which will come off easily. I have always said I don’t mind loosing eagles that are going to be released; I just want my transmitter back. So thanks, Penny.

April 1, 2009

I went back this morning to see if, after flying around all day, I could call Penny in, cut off the cuffs and feed her. So I drove up on a high road which would give me a view of the area where I had last seen her. I watched one of the red tails thermalling over the sage. It went quite high, climbing in the sky, and suddenly broke off in an ever increasing stoop. This could mean one of two things  a courtship display while heading to the nest tree or the presence of an intruder which I hoped was Penny. The red tail’s stoop ended in a wingover going straight down, obviously on the attack. A second red tail followed the first bird with a stoop as well. This could only mean one thing, Penny! I drove over and stood on the tail gate of my truck, looking out across the sage and there, sitting on a fence post near the river, was Penny. I headed out in her direction and as soon as she saw me she was gone, flying strongly across the river, disappearing in the cover. I realized that any chance of calling her in was not going to happen. Penny had made herself perfectly clear, she is wild. And so it ends and I wish her luck.