The eagle has landed.
Freedom, a bald eagle that made headlines in 2016 after he was daringly rescued on July 4th by a U.S. Army veteran, has a new home.
He took flight Thursday — by airplane — to New Jersey, where he will reside as an exhibition bird at the Turtle Back Zoo.
He may have moved to the Garden State, but Freedom's thrilling story will remain part of Minnesota lore.
It begins in Chisago County, July 4, 2016. A young eagle was found dangling from a 75-foot pine tree for 2 days. His foot had been caught in fishing wire and baling twine that had gotten lodged in the branches during one of the fledgling's first flights. No ladder was tall enough to reach the bird, who was presumed dead.
Jason Galvin, a sharpshooter who had done two tours in Afghanistan, thought otherwise. He sent 150 bullets toward the branches, chipping away at the branch and twine until the bird fell to safety.
Freedom, as the eagle was dubbed by his rescuer, became an instant celebrity.
He spent a year in recuperation at the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. During that time, his talons fell off, which meant he wouldm't survive if he returned to the wild. Instead, he got a coveted job at the center, where birds with disabilities reside and educate visitors about their species.
Three and a half years later, he has landed a new gig.
"Freedom has been an amazing education ambassador bird here at the center," said Victoria Hall, executive director of the Raptor Center. "When people come in to the center, he's great to look at from his enclosure. But he hasn't adapted as well to coming out of his enclosure and doing programs on the glove. He gets more nervous than we like to see, indicating that he's not settled into that role."
Freedom might have been content to stay inside, but interaction is a key component in the life of an educational bird. "It gives them new sights and experiences," Hall said. "It's important for their welfare."
When the center realized Freedom might be happier to be purely on exhibit, officials sought a new home for him, one with more space for him to spread his wings.
They found a match in West Orange, N.J. The Turtle Back Zoo had just launched a free-flighted eagle exhibit and needed a bird.
"Freedom is going to join their brand-new exhibit, where he can fly and continue telling the stories of eagles to the public," Hall said.
To get there, Freedom took a commercial flight from MSP airport. A volunteer for th Raptor Center made a custom crate for him that would allow him to stretch his wings while in the plane's cargo hold. Because of the forecast of extreme cold temperatures in Minnesota, the trip had to be moved up so it would be safe for Freedom to travel.
Center officials dropped Freedom off at the airport Thursday morning, and he arrived in New Jersey to meet his new handlers in the afternoon.
The departure was bittersweet. Freedom was the center's biggest name bird, with a one-of-a-kind story of rescue and resilience.
"He has a great personality and he's a magnificent bird," Hall said. "He's going to live another 20 to 30 years, so we wanted to find the absolute best environment to make sure we give him the best quality of life.
"We're definitely going to miss Freedom," she added. "But we're so excited."
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4853 @SharynJackson