For the Birds
Since Wilma, Grandfather Mountain’s amber-eyed bald eagle died
in the summer of 2010, the habitat staff has been searching for more eagles to take her perch.
Morely, an espresso-colored golden eagle with red-licked feathers, has been at Grandfather since November 1984, after the tip of his left wing had to be amputated as result of a gunshot would.
Eagles mate for life, animated by their partners, so the habitat staff would like to find a mate for Morely and a pair of bald eagles.
“I have observed people seeing them with a sense of awe,” said Harris Prevost, vice president of the Grandfather Stewardship Foundation. “That’s your national bird. Especially for young people and school kids, it’s a very meaningful thing.”
He hopes to have eagles by this season.
Both species are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act.
In order to obtain the birds, Grandfather Mountain needs to act in accordance with the current ethics trend, which suggests that flightless eagles should be euthanized.
“It’s not a law per se,” said habitat staff member Bonnie Clark. “But because they can live up to 50 years in captivity, it’s more humane to put them down if they can’t fly.”
Thus, the staff is searching for eagles that have eye, muscle or neurological problems – birds that can fly, but would not be able to survive in the wild.
The staff would be able to obtain the birds from places like Carolina Raptor, Birds of Prey at Dollywood and birds sold to zoos.
In order to adequately care for the future partially flighted birds, Grandfather Mountain is planning to renovate its current eagle habitat by covering the top in a thick, stainless steel mesh, strong enough to keep out even wild bears and high enough to cover the habitat’s trees.
Their current eagle habitat is about 3,000 square feet and spotted with rocks and mossy trees.
But being partially enclosed, the habitat is prone to ravens entering and stealing food, said Landis Wofford, Grandfather’s public relations director.
They will use mesh roofing from International Cordage, and Allison Fence company will replace the old base of the existing fences. Both companies are meeting at Grandfather Mountain next week in order to design the renovations.
“Everything you build on Grandfather is more complicated and difficult than anywhere else,” said Penn Dameron, president of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation. “We’re going to start construction sometime in February and finish in March.”
He said Grandfather is not going to wait to raise the entire $200,000 estimated for renovations, but is going to make up the difference now and continue to raise funds to rebalance the cost.
Grandfather Mountain has been sketching and organizing events to fund the renovation since February 2012, Wofford said. The mountain held the 5K Critter Crawl run, an event set to occur again – and benefiting the same cause – on May 23.
Part of the profits from their Halloween events, “A Beary Scary Halloween” and “Creatures of the Night and Bonfire Delight,” were added to the renovation funds. Monetary donations specific to the eagle habitat were made online at http://www.grandfather.com.
The Grandfather Stewardship Foundation has raised $28,000 of the $200,000 thus far, more than half of which has come from an elementary school children’s competition called “Penny Wars.”
Penny Wars is a challenge adopted by Caldwell and Avery County schools to see which school and class could collect the most pennies.
Children came to class with jars full from the cracks between couch cushions, dad’s pockets after work, their penny banks and cashed-in dollar bills.
The Caldwell County Chamber of Commerce initiated this challenge, raising $9,400 in 2011, Wofford said.
The winning Caldwell classes were Allyson Davis’ kindergarten class from Collettsville School, with $186.06, and Tabitha Call’s class from Davenport Elementary, with $185.18.
Five Avery County schools raised $3,745.75 in change in 2012, with Kelly Ward’s third-grade class at Newland Elementary winning with the most class earnings of $253.78.
A pizza party was thrown for each class that collected the most pennies in each participating school. A trip to Grandfather Mountain and a behind-the-scenes tour of the animal habitats was given to Davis’, Call’s and Ward’s classes.
The children’s wonder at seeing the birds’ regality and their surprise at small facts, like the birds’ screeching call and their shy eating habits, is one of the reasons for the habitat’s staff excitement for the coming birds.
“Overall, the main reason we are doing these renovations is to keep the eagles safer, whether they can fly or not,” Clark said.
For more information and to donate to the eagle habitat, call (800) 468-7325 or (828) 733-2013, or visit http://www.grandfather.com.
Editor's Note: Since this article was originally published, Grandfather Mountain officials reported that Morely, the golden eagle, died Tuesday, Jan. 1, of natural causes.