The CPN Eagle Aviary has one special new resident, but before introducing you to him, we’d like to tell you the whole story. This has been such an incredible journey to watch. To start, we will introduce you to Kyla.
The eagles at the aviary each have their own unique story about how they ended up with us and Kyla is no different. She has come full circle while she has been here.
Kyla, a female bald eagle, came to the aviary from Kyla, Montana, after spending most of the first two years of her life improperly housed. Two months after we opened the aviary doors in 2012, we got a call from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in Region 6 after law enforcement confiscated several eagles. We transported four eagles - two to another aviary and Kyla and Gracie to ours.
We weren’t provided with much of the birds’ histories because of the situation but Kyla had likely fallen out of her nest as a chick and had several unrepaired breaks in her left wing. After six months, a rehabilitator must make the decision whether to put an eagle down if it cannot be fully rehabilitated or find placement in a long-term care facility. The rehabber, in this case, probably found it too difficult to put the eagle down. She had good intentions by sparing the eagle but was in a very tough place because her permits had lapsed and she no longer had a place to adequately house the eagles.
When Kyla was found, she had been in a large kennel for an extended period of time. She had worn the feathers off of a portion of her wings and had calluses from turning around in the kennel. It was very emotional to see her in that condition.
On the trip home, Kyla became very nervous and kept coming to the front of her kennel. I had to sit on the floor with her in front of the kennel door so she could see me to keep her from becoming overly stressed. When we got her into the enclosure at the aviary, she wouldn’t get out of the kennel because she had been living in one for quite some time. Usually, when we open pet kennels for birds, they run or fly out immediately, but not Kyla. I had to get on my hands and knees to coax her out, while overwhelmed with emotion because of the state she was in.
When we attempted to feed her, she couldn’t eat whole food. The birds at the aviary get a whole food diet, which means they get fur, feathers, and bones of all of the quail, rats and fish they receive like they would in the wild. She didn’t know how to eat whole food and almost choked at first. For the first few weeks, we had to dice her food into bite size portions.
For the first month she was here, she stayed in a five by five foot square within the 25x50 foot enclosure. But one day, the misters came on and she could feel the water in the breeze and she started to paddle her wings. Dancing around in circles, she happened to put her foot in the running water in the enclosure. It’s possible that Kyla had never been in water before, especially running water like a stream, because she fell out of her nest when she was so young. When she got into the stream for the first time, she ran up and down like a child splashing in the pool. We cried again.
After this, we knew her spirit was no longer broken and she would be an eagle again. Her Potawatomi name, Kche-Gizhek, means Big Sky. She was given that name as a reminder of where she comes from but the name fits much more than that. Out of the five birds in the enclosure, she became the dominant figure and mother hen. She ate first and ran the space.
Kyla was still a young bald eagle or sub-adult when she came to us, which means she wasn’t fully mature yet and still had not gotten her full white head or tail. She is our largest eagle, weighing in at around 14 pounds. The smallest male at the aviary, Charlie, who weighs about six pounds, took to Kyla almost immediately and followed her everywhere around the enclosure. Kyla, being immature, didn’t understand or appreciate his attention. She would often bite at him when he perched too close. She even pulled one of his tail feathers out.
Last year, Kyla’s head finally turned white, which is a sign of maturity that usually happens around age five, and she finally understood why Charlie had been following her around. They built a nest together and Kyla laid eggs, but they were not fertile. Eagles living in captivity don’t normally nest build or lay eggs, so it is encouraging for us to know that they feel comfortable enough in this environment that they did.
This year, the pair laid three eggs. One egg broke and one appeared viable initially. We spoke to USFWS about the possibility of allowing these birds to breed in captivity.
They were great parents and incubated the eggs perfectly. In 35 days, the amount of time a bald eagle egg takes to hatch, the egg did not hatch. On day 35, Kyla went and got food to bring to the egg, as if she knew she was supposed to have a chick. She went through mourning process where she wouldn’t eat and would often throw her head back and yell. This went on for almost five days.
We contacted William Voelker at Sia: the Comanche Nation Ornithological Initiative, in Cyril, Oklahoma, where we had completed a large portion of our training. Sia hatched a tawny eagle chick, that was one of the very few of this breed hatched in the western hemisphere. Tawny eagles are an exotic species, originally from Africa. Sia houses exotic species of eagles whose numbers are being threatened in the wild, along with native eagles.
This 10-day-old tawny eagle, hatched on April 2, wasn’t doing as well in the incubator as he would be if raised by parents. The staff at Sia suggested that we try to let Kyla raise the chick. This was a big risk because the chick would still fit in the palm of your hand. Kyla had never raised a chick before and we did not know how she or Charlie would react or if they would even accept him. One false move could have proven fatal.
On April 13, we removed the eggs and put the chick in the nest. Once safely out of the enclosure we all waited by the door, watching the camera feed, ready to intervene if things did not go well. Kyla came charging back to the nest but quickly stopped when she saw the chick. Our hearts were nearly pounding out of our chest. Once she got close enough to the chick, he instinctively moved towards her to get warm. Once they touched it seemed like something just clicked.
Kyla got around the chick gently covering him. We cried. After seeing that Kyla was brooding the chick perfectly, we waited nearly three hours to see if she and Charlie would feed it. The chick had to eat soon or we would have to remove him. Finally, after what seemed like forever, Charlie brought food to the nest. Kyla fed the baby and, of course, we all cried again. It was a beautiful moment to see their natural instincts come to life in such a fragile moment.
Now that the chick is more than three months old and the family is thriving, we decided it would be a great time to announce it to all of you.
Tawny eagles have a 77-84 day fledging period when the chick learns to fly and fend for themselves. After that period we plan to remove the eagle from the enclosure as would naturally happen in the wild. Since his species is threatened, it will most likely be used in the breeding effort of this beautiful creature.
Check back frequently for more updates about this chick, our eagle residents and the visitors that come to see us at the aviary. You can read about each of the eagle’s unique stories at cpn.news/eaglebiographies.
Jennifer Randall, CPN Aviary manager