An eagle named Freedom has already had a pretty eventful life. Last 4th of July, he was strung up in a Minnesota tree by his foot and shot down 75 feet to safety on by an Afghanistan veteran.
His daring rescue on Independence Day skyrocketed the baby bird to international fame. But having so many eyes on his recovery posed further challenges to the veterinarians caring for him at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center. If he didn’t get better, this patriotic symbol’s life might be cut short with the world watching.
There were ups and downs over the last year of his care. He seemed primed for release, but then his talons failed to fully grow back. The alternatives for a wild bird that can’t survive on its own would be to join the Raptor Center’s educational bird team, or, sadly, euthanasia. But did the feisty eagle have the right temperament to teach about 150,000 people a year?
It turned out he did.
Freedom has a new job, as an official education bird at the Raptor Center.
He just began his training, and is set to make public appearances next year, if all goes well.
“He gets to decide exactly how long it takes,” said Gail Buhl, the Raptor Center’s education program manager.
Buhl started by training Freedom to associate a clicking sound with food, a sign that he could learn more complicated commands.
Though his care team observed him to be spirited and “snarky” in the clinic, Buhl saw another side to Freedom.
“He was a little nervous and that is completely natural,” she said. “At the same time, he showed a level of confidence and curiosity, and that is what I’m looking for.”
Freedom’s celebrity status wasn’t the main factor in keeping him on as an educational bird, Buhl said, “but it certainly won’t hurt.”
There was discussion, however, of changing the bird’s name.
Some of the older birds in the program are named after philanthropic donors. Newer birds’ names often reflect their scientific names or something from their habitat.
“If I’ve only got so much time to talk to you about the challenges raptors have, I would really like the name to teach you something,” Buhl explained.
But Freedom won out.
Half of all wild eagles don’t make it to their first birthday and those that do can live up to 20 years. In captivity, Freedom’s got a good 40 years ahead of him, with readily available food and veterinarians just downstairs. Turns out, he landed a pretty good job.
“We have a great medical package,” Buhl said.