November 24, 2018 11:40 PM
A new star at the University of Minnesota Gabbert Raptor Center is about to make its public debut.
The young eagle was found dangling from a rope off a tree limb in Rush City on July 4, 2016. He was rescued when a U.S. Army veteran used a rifle to shoot off the tree branch.
The eagle was taken to the Raptor Center and appropriately named Freedom.
Freedom suffered permanent damage to his talons and can't be returned to the wild. He will have an important job at the Raptor Center, but he needed to pass one more test. KSTP Reporter Kevin Doran and Photographer Monty Stuempert were asked to help out with the eagle's training.
Raptors see people as predators-- news crews are even worse. The new eagle needed to be introduced TV cameras.
"The cameras that are used are often quite scary to birds," said Dr. Julia Ponder, Raptor Center Executive Director. "So we wanted to introduce this during Freedom's training so that he would be used to it when it came time to do it in the real world."
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first borrowed the Raptor Center an old camera and tripod for the eagle to get to know. Then, Kevin and Monty were invited to meet the young Eagle.
"Freedom is three-years-old, he won't get his white head or tail until he's at least five," said Gail Buhl, Raptor Center Program Coordinator. "But he is a very curious eagle, which helps with the training process. So he looks at any new stimulus with curiosity instead of fear."
The introduction started at a distance and the news crew was gradually moved closer to Freedom.
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"Normally we do very short sessions of five minutes or less, several times throughout a day," said Buhl. "We've concentrated that in this last hour and a half, and he's really stepped up to the plate."
Trainer Kelsey Griffin held the eagle and paid close attention to his posture, his grip and feather position. Buhl could tell Freedom was interested.
"He's uniformly fluffed. That means his feathers on his head, in between his legs and even on his wings and his tail are fluffed up a little bit, which shows more comfort," she said.
As Freedom was being rewarded with treats of cut up rat, Buhl asked Kevin to step closer to him.
"You're the first person he doesn't know next to him," she said.
Then, Monty moved closer with the camera.
"And you can see that his head feathers were a little bit more slicked back right," said Buhl. "So he's like wait, something's different, wait, I know something is different."
Eagles can live more than 40 years in captivity. Freedom is being trained for a life in front of crowds and cameras.
"This is prepping him for decades worth of work," said Buhl. "We want to take the time now, so it takes less time later."
Freedom started his journey hanging from a tree. Now, he will spend the next four decades as a top attraction at the Raptor Center.
The eagle still has some work to do before he becomes part of the regular education program at the Raptor Center. When he's ready, he will make hundreds of appearances each year, helping teach Minnesotans about the importance of protecting our natural world.
The Raptor Center relies on donations to help rehabilitate sick and injured birds, educate conservation-minded veterinarians and reach out to the community with unique education programs. Hundreds of people visit the Raptor Center each year.
Updated: November 24, 2018 11:40 PM
Created: November 20, 2018 06:40 PM
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