In Memoriam: Morely
After more than 28 years of gilding Grandfather Mountain’s
wildlife habitat with his skeptical modest presence, Morely the Golden Eagle died of natural causes.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2, the habitat staff discovered their oldest animal in his enclosure, stating that he died overnight.
“He had a health check with the vet a couple of weeks ago and passed with flying colors,” said Christie Tipton, Grandfather’s habitat manager. “It was probably heart related. Of course, working with the animals, you get very close to them, so when they pass away, it’s almost like losing a child.”
The habitat staff will begin looking for a pair of bald eagles to take his perch, once there is set date for the completion of the eagle habitat renovations.
The renovation plans have been slightly altered.
“They thought they would have to build the habitat with a divided space for the new birds, but now it will be just one large space,” said Landis Wofford, Grandfather’s director of communications.
Morely, who was 35 years old, endured a splintering gunshot wound when he was young. After rehabilitation at the Eagle Propagation Program in Illinois, he was transported to Grandfather Mountain’s habitat in November 1984. Morely’s confinement was necessary, because without the third of his wing, he could not get lift off of the ground.
Morely had the same severe gaze and skeptical furrowed brow as feral golden eagles, but he loved to take baths and became introverted as he aged.
“He did have a mate at one time – her name was Goldie,” Tipton said. “After she died, he went through at least a year of pretty severe depression. He was very attached to her and very protective. Several employees ran into trees, because he would chase you out of the habitat with his wings out if you would get near her at certain times. He never really had that spunk in his personality after that.”
Goldie died in 2005. Because golden eagles mate for life, the habitat staff looked actively for a new mate, to no avail.
“Golden eagles are very cherished by the Native Americans, so they get preferential pick to be sent to the reservations,” Tipton said.
After his depression, Morely befriended Wilma, the bald eagle that died in 2010.
His tapioca-colored neck and intermixed cream and ink feathers foregrounded him from the matte shrubbery and trees. Accustomed to seeing eagles only in inspirational photographs, many who visited Grandfather Mountain were shocked at Morely’s size.
He was the usual size for a golden eagle – about three feet tall and 14 pounds. Though his wings were never measured, most golden eagles have a wingspan of seven feet.
Golden eagles have a terrifying dive rate of up to 150 mph, preying on anything from insects to rabbits and tortoises. They have even been known to attack adult deer.
Typically, they live up to 20 years in the wild and can live up to 50 in captivity.
One of the best known and widely spread birds of prey, the golden eagle populates North America, Asia, Northern Africa, Europe and Mexico, where they are the national bird.
Though protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, golden eagles are still susceptible to poaching for their feathers to be sold on the black market.
The peninsula-shaped wildlife habitats at Grandfather Mountain hold seven black bears, four white-tailed deer, three river otters and two cougars.
There is a general reverence for the howling powerful spirit of wild animals, even when they are in captivity. But there is a somewhat primal awe of large raptors’ independence and flight.
“He was, like all eagles, just a very majestic bird, and being in his presence was a kind of inspirational thing,” said Penn Dameron, president of the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.
He said that Grandfather’s preference to house the eagles instead of other birds is “partly the physical impression of eagles, with their piercing eyes and stature that is so proud. Especially with the bald eagles being a symbol of America, it’s like seeing an American flag flying down there in the habitat.”
For more information or to donate to the eagle habitat renovations, call (800) 468-7325 or (828) 733-2013, or visit http://www.grandfather.com.