Eagles soar at Grandfather Mountain

By Jesse Campbell (jesse.campbell@mountaintimes.com)

Article Published: May. 16, 2013 | Modified: May. 16, 2013
Eagles soar at Grandfather Mountain

Griffin is the name given to Grandfather Mountain’s new male bald eagle. Griffin came to Grandfather Mountain from a raptor center in Nebraska and is missing his right eye and suffers from neurological damage.

Photo by Jesse Campbell

The eyrie at Grandfather Mountain is full once again.

For the first time since 2010, the animal habitats at Grandfather will showcase the iconic American bald eagle.

Unlike previous birds in the exhibit, the mountain’s two newest inhabitants, Isis, a female, and Griffin, a male, have the ability to fly and soar for short distances in a confined airspace.

To protect the eagles, staff members constructed a roof over exhibit to prevent the birds from escaping and unwanted visits from ravens, which are known to steal food from the captive birds.

Like other bald and golden eagles that have called Grandfather Mountain home, Isis and Griffin have sustained traumatic injuries prior to coming to the sanctuary, thus deemed unsuitable to continue living in the wild, according to habitat staff.

Landis Taylor, director of communications at Grandfather, said Griffin is blind in the right eye due to an accident involving barbed wire. Isis, on the other hand, also lost vision in an eye as a result of trauma and a bout with lead poisoning, habitat manager Christine Tipton said.

Griffin and Isis were moved into the new eagle habitat May 1, and the public caught their first glimpse of the birds May 9.

The public’s reception to Grandfather’s new denizens has been a welcome sight to staff members and visitors alike.

“Obviously, it is very amazing to see them fly around,” Tipton said. “They are a very large, majestic bird… everyone is extremely excited (to see them). Everyone I’ve heard is amazed they got to see the eagles up close and to fly around, too.”

Being in a confined habitat — along with the sudden flux in attention from people — the eagles are still in the process of adjusting to their new home and surroundings.

“There is some adjustment for them,” Tipton said. “Part of it is being in new surroundings, and part of it is being around people. They also have to learn the parameters of the closing.”

The eagles are also adjusting to each other, as this is the first time they’ve been paired together.

“They’ve been liking each other a lot and will probably become a mated pair,” Tipton said, adding that eagles typically mate for life and can live to be 60 years old if kept in captivity.

Maintaining the eagles’ exhibit involves hours of work, as well as a cautious approach from habitat staff.

“We feed them everyday and allow them to fast one day a week,” Tipton said. “There is some general maintenance we have to keep. We try to keep their perches wrapped, too.”

Workers must also be careful not to encroach on the eagles’ home.

“They are very territorial birds,” Tipton said. “They typically don’t like us coming near them. The other eagles we had would actually yell at us whenever we got near. They weren’t trying to say, ‘Hello, you’re my friend.’ It was a ‘Hey, stay away’ yell. They can also be threatening, and we can’t stare them in the eye.”

Habitat staff explained their reasoning in waiting until recently to find new eagles for the vacated exhibit.

“The biggest reason we didn’t find another eagle (sooner) is because we wanted to modify the habitat,” Tipton said. “We wanted to protect them more. We do have wild animals that will pace the fence line … like coyotes.”

What’s in a Name

In order to invest the community in some of its newest, avian members, Grandfather’s habitat staff hosted a naming contest, in which participants could submit potential names for the eagles.

According to a Grandfather news release, Tony Sweet of Maryland named Isis, while Emily Chapman of Beech Mountain named Griffin.

Sweet said his choice was inspired by the ancient Egyptian goddess, who was worshipped as the ideal mother and wife. In addition, Isis is depicted in hieroglyphics as the mother of Horus, the god of war and protection, who had the head of a hawk.

Chapman, a 9-year-old resident of Beech Mountain, chose the name, Griffin, based on the mythological Greek creature featured in one of her favorite movie and book series, “The Chronicles of Narnia.” In mythology, the griffin possesses the body, tail and back legs of a lion, with the head, wings and front talons of an eagle.

“I heard about the male eagle’s prior injury,” Chapman said in the news release, adding that several griffins were injured in battle throughout the “Narnia” series. “It was a combination of that and just liking the name.”

According to habitat staff, construction began on the eagles’ enclosed habitat in February, and its two new residents arrived from Nebraska in late March.

For more information about the bald eagles or Grandfather Mountain, visit http://www.grandfather.com or call (800) 468-7325.

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