She visited veterans hospitals, Jay Leno and schoolchildren around the state. She survived being hit by a car in Wisconsin that left part of a wing amputated and unable to fly.
Still Harriet, one of the state’s most recognizable ambassadors, lived to the ripe old age of 35. She was put down this week, officials at the National Eagle Center in southeastern Minnesota announced Thursday.
Harriet, who had called the Wabasha center home since 2000, had not been eating in recent days, an indication that she was near the end of her life, the center revealed. Without the medications provided through her food, she was in increasing pain.
“There were simply no more interventions that could extend and improve Harriet’s quality of life,” the center’s announcement read.
Harriet was taken Wednesday to the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota, where she was euthanized.
“We believe the kindest thing to do was to keep her from a painful end and let her die peacefully in expert care,” said Rolf Thompson, the facility’s executive director. “When [the Raptor Center] told us there is nothing more we can do, we knew that the time had come to let her go.”
Harriet was a regular visitor to Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, and her image lives on, thanks to her likeness being on the state’s Support Our Troops license plate.
“Now, every time I see one of those license plates, I get a little tear in my eye,” said MaryBeth Garrigan, the center’s former director and the eagle’s trainer upon her arrival.
Harriet’s role as the center’s first ambassador took her to New York and Los Angeles for appearances on national television, including the “Today Show” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
In 2007, about the time the center moved from its downtown Wabasha storefront to along the edge of the Mississippi River, Harriet appeared in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list.
In an ode Thursday on the center’s Facebook page, Garrigan wrote, “This eagle was an amazing ambassador for her species. Many memories with this old girl — from training her in my backyard in St. Paul to presenting her to hundreds of patients at the VA hospitals.”
Garrigan now teaches at the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul, where Harriet made numerous visits. The school will hold a memorial for Harriet June 3 during a powwow.
“I don’t think there has been a bald eagle as well documented as Harriet,” Garrigan said. “It’s really fascinating that after 19 years in the wild that she did such an amazing job” interacting with humans.
As an eagle that lived nearly half its life in the wild, Harriet can be considered “quite old,” the center’s statement read, noting that she suffered from arthritis and cataracts. Wild eagles can expect to live 20 to 25 years, the center added.
In the spring of 1981, Harriet hatched in a large nest 86 feet up in a white pine on Palmer Lake in northeastern Wisconsin. That June, a researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources climbed up to the nest and banded the young eaglet. The band made it possible to identify this eagle years later as the one struck by a vehicle in 1998. It was the same biologist, Ron Eckstein, who had banded her who also took the call when the bird was injured on the road.
Thousands of visitors over the years came to recognize Harriet by the feather tuft atop her head, the result of scar tissue and damage to feather follicles that occurred in the collision.
Advancing age and ailments forced Harriet to retire from public events in 2015.
Current eagle ambassadors Angel, Columbia, Donald and Was’aka continue in their roles, and soon will be joined by a young male bald eagle once his training is complete.