AEF’s Captive Breeding and Hacking Status, 2012

The American Eagle Foundation (AEF) has experienced another good season of captive breeding and releases of bald eagles from its Douglas Lake hack site.   The total of seven bald eagle releases included:

  • A bald eaglet hatched in a wild nest in Marion County, TN (near Chattanooga) on approximately February 8, 2012, which was an extremely early hatch for Tennessee.  It fledged from its nest about April 19, but was soon found in a weakened condition on the ground.  It was taken to the AEF for rehab and placed in the Douglas Lake hack tower on May 23.  It was released into the wild on June 5, 2012 at 16.9 weeks age.  It was a male and weighed 6 pounds 12 ounces one day prior to release.  Its left wing tag, with 2-inch high orange digits is “B2”.
  • The Wildlife Sanctuary of NW Florida in Pensacola captive-bred two bald eaglets, which hatched there on March 19 and 23, 2012.  They were placed in the Douglas Lake hack tower on May 8 at 6.9 and 7.4 weeks age.  They were released on June 20, 2012 at 12.7 and 13.3 weeks age.  They were both males and each weighed 8.0 pounds at release.  Their left-wing tags are C2 and D2, respectively.  The eagle “C2” was photographed in good condition on August 7 and 15, 2012 on Lake Pymatuning in NW Pennsylvania (near Ohio border).
  • AEF’s Ms. Jefferson and Isaiah hatched one bald eaglet on April 11 .  It was transferred to the Douglas Lake hack site on June 1 at 7.3 weeks age.  It was released on July 15, 2012, with left wing tag E2.  It weighed 9 pounds 13 ounces.
  • AEF’s Independence and Franklin hatched three eggs on  May 7 (2 eaglets) and May 8 (1 eaglet), as viewed on AEF’s live eagle nest cam at   They were transferred from the Dollywood Park to the Douglas Lake hack site on June 22, 2012, when their ages were:  1 @ 6.4 weeks and 2 @ 6.6 weeks.     Left wing tags F2, J2, and L2 were placed on the tree.  F2 (named Ranger), fledged from the hack tower on 8/13/12 at 14.0 weeks age.  J2 (BraveHeart) fledged 8/15/12 at 14.3 weeks age.  L2 (Griffith) fledged 8/15/12, but promptly suffered an abrasion on its foot.  L2 was recaptured and rehabbed at AEF and re-released from the Douglas Lake hack tower on 9/29/12 at 20.6 weeks age.

From 2002 through 2012, Independence and Franklin have produced captive-bred 27 eaglets.  An awesome 26 of the 27 eaglets have been released from Douglas Lake hack site through 2012.   One of the 27 was killed in the hack tower by a raccoon in 2010.

The 25-foot high hack tower on Douglas Lake has four hack cages.  Each cage is  8x8x8-feet and can accommodate up to 3 eaglets at a time, or a total of 12 in all four hack cages.  The eagles are released at approximately 13 – 14 weeks age, when they are first capable of flight.  They then already have a full adult size, with a wing span of 6.5 to 7.5 feet.   The principle behind hacking is that Bald Eagles tend to return to nest in the region of their first flight.

Eaglets from off-Park aviaries are transferred to the hack tower at approximately 8 weeks of age.  Eaglets from AEF’s on-Park (Dollywood) aviaries are transferred to the hack tower between by approximately 6 weeks age.  After that age, the eaglets may be able to see over the tops of their nests and could possibly become too accustomed to people for developing good survival skills.

AEF has successfully hacked and released 119 young bald eagles at its Douglas Lake hack site from 1992 through 2012, or an average of 5.7 bald eagle releases per year.

Due primarily to the effects of the insecticide DDT, there had been no successful bald eagle nests in Tennessee from 1961 to 1983.  In order to restore natural nesting, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), AEF, and its partners will have released 344 young bald eagles from 7 statewide hack sites from 1980 through 2012.   The number of successful nests has gradually increased through 2011, when approximately 180 young were fledged from at least 110 statewide nests.  TWRA, which is the primary monitor of wild nests, projects a significant increase in successful statewide nests in 2012.

Bald eagle hack releases may impact nesting recovery over a broad geographical area.  They tend to return to nest after about five years age within about 75 miles of where they learned to fly.  However,  juvenile bald eagles  wander over many states and southern Canada.  If they happen to mate with an eagle that learned to fly at a distant site, they need to compromise on a permanent nest location.  Tennessee-hacked bald eagles have nested at least as far north as near Lake Erie in northern Ohio, and in mid-Indiana.

Posted in Conservation & Management, Nesting & Recovery History, Propagation/Hacking/Releases, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

To Watch An Eagle Fly – {Haliaeetus leucocephalus}

Submitted By Warren Young; Alberta, Canada

   The adult American bald eagle is unmistakable in appearance.  It is a striking creature possessing a fierce profile with sharp penetrating yellow eyes. Little wonder it was chosen as America’s national bird symbol back in 1782.  Juvenile specimens resemble the golden eagle. But the conspicuous snow-white head with white tail feathers against the dark overall plumage of the adult bald eagle is unique. The male and female bald eagle display characteristics that only become evident after four or five years from the time it has fledged.

I watched my first eagle after visiting the west coast. Upon entering a semi rain forest several miles from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia on a personal exploring mission, it happened.  After pressing a few branches out of the way to view a pair of mallard ducks that I had heard landing on a woodland pond, I noticed their behavior become increasingly tense. My first thought was that they had spotted my invasion of their privacy and I expected them to fly off the water immediately. Then suddenly an aerial shadow glided over the pond. As I glanced up, a huge bald eagle, tilting its head down toward the pair of ducks drew my attention.  It was silhouetted against the blue sky silently coasting just above the tops of the trees.  I could see its eyes and I believe it saw me. The eagle passed over and the ducks relaxed.  They continued feeding by tipping their tails upward with their heads buried under the shallow water to resume their foraging. But the memory of that first encounter, seeing my first live bald eagle remains clear to me.

For a brief interval during our history in the 60s and 70s – due to harmful pesticides, all of the eagles including the peregrine falcon and many other avian predators across North America became seriously threatened.  Their numbers decreased alarmingly until the use of harmful pesticides was discontinued.  Today eagles of both species including many other raptors have made a remarkable comeback. Eagles are quite common now across the continent of North America and especially on the west coast.  Because eagles are at the top of the food chain, the mammals and carrion they ingest as prey can seriously affect their metabolism. The pesticides caused the shells of eagle’s eggs to become remarkably prone to breakage leaving the un-incubated chicks inside the eggs to perish prior to hatching.  Normally 2 to 3 eggs are laid and it takes 35 days for incubation to occur.  Rarely do three of the incubated eaglets survive. Two are the more common. The stronger chicks will unwittingly kill the weaker third chick out of competition for the food the parents bring to the nest.

During my days as a taxidermist, I mounted several bald eagles and a couple of golden eagles for licensed customers.  Many of my clients displayed the majesty of these birds with open wings over their fireplaces. Some clients dramatized the mount with the American flag as a background displaying the familiar graphic displays we often see in commemorative magazines or on book covers.  Those who could not obtain official legal permits upon finding dead eagles alternately commissioned some of our top wood carvers to make replicas of these beautiful birds.  Mature eagles have a wingspan of 70 to 90 inches from tip to tip of their primary feathers.  That is an impressive species of avian wildlife second only to the condor.

Eagle nests are called an “aerie”.  They are usually situated overlooking a river or the coast from a tall Douglas fir, Cedar, or similar species of tree in the west. They are constructed of stout branches in the crotch of a tree. Or they can be located on a precipitous cliff overlooking a valley or the ocean. Some of these amazing nests are anywhere from 5 to 9 feet in diameter.  They continue building upon the same original nests for a number of years.  One observer reported finding an aerie that was twelve feet deep, suggesting the nest had been built there on top of the preceding nest for a considerable time.  Eagles have been known to live up to thirty years in the wild and they mate for life.  If one dies, only then will the survivor take another mate. Eagles are very territorial and will fiercely defend at least one or two square miles of nesting territory from other eagles and potential intruders. They have been observed flying at heights of 10,000 feet and can travel at speeds up to 35 miles an hour.

Most birds possess colored vision and eagles are no exception except that their eyesight is extremely remarkable.  They have two foveae or centers of focus that enables them to see clearly both forward and off to the side at the same time. The nictitating membrane cleans their eyes from any dust or particles from front to back every three or four seconds.  The eagle sees with a maximum sharpness of at least four times better than a human with 20/20 vision. An eagle doesn’t miss very much and can spot their prey at tremendous distances. They have a special extra transparent eyelid that acts as powerful sunglasses enabling them to fly toward the sun without being blinded.  Other species of birds do not possess that advantage.  When being annoyed by crows or ravens an eagle can simply fly higher into the sky against the sun and remain at peace.

Because eagles don’t hunt during the night like most owls do, their hearing is still only slightly less than an owl’s.  From the time they leave the nest, they become engaged in a sort of eagle boot camp. It really takes a good four years for a young eagle to mature into a fully effective predator.  This is evident by the white head and tail feathers that adorn their vesture after those four years have passed. It signifies a sort of military service record. At that point in their lives they are finally ready to find a mate and move into a territory of their own.

For an eagle learning to fly and to fully master the technique, it becomes one of their most dangerous and vulnerable exercises. It is estimated that 40% of young eagles don’t survive their first flight.  The young eagle is on its own practicing flying and it takes them about five weeks to really get the hang of it.  But once they master the art of flying, their air born exercises are amazing.  They learn to hunt mainly by watching their parents from nearby promontories or coasting along with them learning to use the air currents to the best advantage.  The molting process is always a constant and gradual thing with eagles and never seems to curtail their flying exercises. Avian ornithologist philosophers refer to the eagle as an icon that consistently renews it’s feathered overcoat – always in the right places.

I prefer to comment on the eagle in a positive personal sense. They really don’t have too many negative characteristics to demote them in any way from the noble status they’ve been officially elevated to.  Eagles represent a remarkable emblem as the American national bird. While they often feed heavily in season on carrion along the salmon spawning rivers of the northwest, they do occasionally take live prey.  As a human, I like to credit that characteristic with the idea of keeping things neat and tidy. By taking advantage of this innate ability to make perfect use of a species of fish, the pacific salmon that ultimately dies after spawning, eagles seem commendable. Bald eagles are therefore considered beneficial by man and are naturally resourceful.

I listened to a story once involving the intelligence of the eagle. It explained a sort of ritual they performed when the female selects a mate.  Once they meet for the first time and do a few aerial pirouettes, the female watches the male do a special performance for her.  But first she selects an average size stick and rises high into the sky with the male following.  Then she drops the stick.  The male immediately dives, plunging headlong after the falling stick.  He catches the stick just before it hits the ground.  Next, the female chooses a larger stick. This time she doesn’t fly quite as high before dropping it. The male repeats the behavior and catches the stick again before it hits the ground.  Humorously speaking, this would appear to be an excellent test the female initiates before selecting a satisfactory mate.

I personally like to classify the bald eagle as a dominant monarch of the sky in that they will chase other species of raptors away making them drop their prey. Eagles will then confiscate the prey.  Which in a way signifies to the other species that they have invaded an eagle’s hunting territory. Their territory extends for a radius of about two square miles. I suppose it’s another way we look at things. But let’s not be too hard on the national bird. Defending one’s territory is not an indefensible argument.  We do it ourselves to defend our right to freedom and peace. This has been costly for us, yet ultimately rewarding when we are successful.

Oddly enough, sometimes eagles will perform some unusual aerobatics, like locking their talons together at high elevations and tumbling softly earthward. There’s a story that appeared in a Georgia newspaper once where two eagles were seen locked talon to talon where they bounced onto a golf course and remained locked together for several hours. A golfer stretched forth his club and gently touched them. They immediately unlocked their talons and flew away.  This had nothing to do with copulation. It’s just an odd ritual that they have been observed performing.  Eagle copulation is done on tree limbs or on the ground.  That too has been observed and verified.

As a taxidermist I can vouch for the fact that distinguishing between a male and female bald eagle can be determined by examining the size of the beaks. Female bodies in most avian predators are always larger than the male. The beak of the female is always deeper from top to bottom than a male’s.  Just as the head and tail feathers turn white, the beaks and eyes turn yellow when the eagle reaches about five years of age.

In summary, my personal take on the bald eagle as the U.S. national bird, was an excellent choice and was wisely classified as a highly intelligent, powerful and free spirited bird that deserves its official title. If you like, eagles possess unwavering patriotic attributes concerning the defense of its territory. Let’s just call a spade a spade. The eagle also sets an example of unwavering loyalty concerning its mate until death. What a wonderful societal lesson we might all learn from simply watching the eagle.

Bald eagles were finally taken off the endangered species list on June 28, 2007.  It is still protected throughout the United States and Canada and is expected to remain a valued and beneficial species of bird indefinitely.

Posted in Conservation & Management, Life History, Biology, & Behavior, Symbolism | Leave a comment

Welcome to the American Eagle Foundation Blog!

The American Eagle Foundation (AEF) hopes you will find this Eagle Blog informative and helpful!

Our Eagle Blog editor is Bob Hatcher.  He retired March 31, 2001 from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) after 23 years as the Coordinator for Non-game and Endangered Species.  He began Tennessee’s bald eagle nesting recovery program in 1979, when Tennessee had had no successful nests since 1961.  He has coordinated or been involved in the release of 337 young bald eagles at 7 Tennessee hack sites from 1980 through 2011, when more than 180 young fledged from at least 110 successful nests.

Bob assisted AEF President Al Cecere in the formation of the AEF in 1985 and is a long-time supporter and adviser.  Since April 2001, Bob has responded to eagle inquiries submitted to AEF.

We invite your inquiries or comments within this blog concerning any eagle-related subject.  From the AEF home page, click on the Eagle Blog icon at the bottom of the page, and follow the posting menu.  If you prefer a confidential inquiry and response, rather than posting on this publicly viewed blog site, you may submit your inquiry to

We also hope you will help us support the mission of the AEF, which is dedicated to protect the majestic Bald Eagle, the U.S.A.’s National Symbol, and its habitat by supporting and protecting eagle and environmental recovery and education programs.

—  American Eagle Foundation
Posted in Am Eagle Foundation Activities, Conservation & Management, Eagle Blog | Leave a comment

The Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge – Hot Spot for Wildlife Viewing

“Hiwassee is the best place  in Eastern North America to see cranes”.  This was recently proclaimed by Melinda Welton, Co-Chair of the Crane Festival, which is scheduled for January 14 – 15, 2012 at Birchwood, TN.   Hiwassee is located NE of Chattanooga, between Dayton and Cleveland, TN.   When we include in the mix:  Bald Eagles, sometimes Golden Eagles, waterfowl, and other wildlife, Hiwassee is really a hot spot for wildlife viewing!  Bald Eagles are rated the most popular of all “watchable wildlife” in the U.S.

A Hooded Crane, found mainly in China, showed up at the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge on December 14, 2011, As of this writing of December 20, it had been seen daily.  This is only about the 3rd or 4th time for the Hooded Crane to be seen in the wild in North America.  It is with about 10,000 Sandhill Cranes, which spend the winter months there.  Three or four of the Endangered Whooping Cranes are also regularly seen there. There are only about 440 Whooping Cranes living in the wild, including approximately115 in the Eastern Migratory Flyway —  where it was reintroduced only 10 years ago.

The origin of the Hooded Crane is a mystery.  It could have crossed the Bering Sea from Siberia into Alaska, where it could have joined the annual southward migration of Sandhill Cranes.  Or it could be a yet unreported escapee from captivity.  It could remain at Hiwassee for a few weeks, or it could migrate further south, before returning north with the other cranes in the late winter.

Up to 12 Bald Eagles were recently reported on the refuge   One pair of adult Bald
Eagles can be observed in a  tree, with apparent nest,  over 1/4 mile from the primary viewing gazebo.  These two eagles can be seen with binoculars, and better still, with a spotting scope.

On December 18, 2011,  203 people from 8 states and Ecuador were at Hiwassee’s two wildlife viewing gazebos to view this intriguing mixture of birds.

Members of the Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) often are available to share spotting scopes, especially during the Crane Festival of January 14-15.   The free Festival activities will be held at the Birchwood Elementary School, the Hiwassee Refuge, and at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park.

Activities at Birchwwood School include:   speakers, films, and children’s activities centered on the cranes and eagles,  Tennessee’s other wildlife, and the rich Native American history of the area.  Morning programs at the school on January 14 will focus on the cranes.  Afternoon programs on the 14th will include:   “Bald Eagle Recovery in Tennessee”, an entertaining portrayal of John J. Audubon,  and a live bird of prey show by the American Eagle Foundation.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)  and Tennessee Ornithological Society (TOS) are the primary sponsors of this annual event.  TWRA manages the Hiwassee Refuge.




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Happy Birthday to Challenger!

Challenger, the non-releasable free-flying bald eagle of the American Eagle Foundation, is celebrating his 22nd birthday this week.  He hatched in Southern Louisiana on or about April 13, 1989.  See more details our recent Eagle Blog, “What is Challenger’s birthday?”

Posted in Challenger, AEF Free-Flying Bald Eagle | 7 Comments

AEF Bald Eagle Captive Breeding Status

Bald eagles are experiences one of their best captive breeding years at the American Eagle Foundation (AEF) of Pigeon Forge, TN.  Six bald eagle pairs have produced 14 eggs, of which 12 could hatch after 35 days.  The eaglets will be placed in AEF’s Douglas Lake hack tower at 6 to 8 weeks age.  The 25-foot high hack tower has four hack cages.  Each cage is  8x8x8-feet and can accommodate up to 3 eaglets at a time, or a total of 12 in all four cages.  The eagles will be released at approximately 13 weeks age, when they will be first capable of flight.  They will already have a full adult size, with a wing span of 6.5 to 7.5 feet.

As of March 27, 2011, each bald eagle pair had produced the following results and prospects (watch for updates):

  1. Sarasota, FL Wild Nest – On 12/13/10, 2 eggs transferred to an AEF incubator from a light pole platform at a Sarasota, FL baseball stadium.  One egg hatched at AEF on 12/29/10; other egg infertile.  Eaglet fed with puppet until moved to hack cage at 6.3 weeks age.  Release expected late March.
  2. Peace & Faithful –  2 eggs found on March 1 and 5, but later egg was broken.  Hatch expected about 4/5/11, with release near July 4.
  3. Brave Heart & Honor – 3 eggs found March 1, 5, & 7.  Releases expected near July 4.
  4. Freedom & Faithful Spirit – 2 eggs found March 5 and 11.
  5. Medina & Un-named male – 2 eggs found March 18 and 21.
  6. Independence (formerly called Bonispae) & Franklin –  Nest on live nest cam at  3 eggs found – March 23 , 26, & 29.  First egg temporarily moved to AEF incubator due to nearby construction.  Hatch expected about April 27 and 30.  Eaglets to be transferred to hack cage by 6 weeks age and released by late July.
Posted in Am Eagle Foundation Activities, Nesting - Live Cam, Propagation/Hacking/Releases | 6 Comments

When is Challenger’s Birthday?”

You have probably heard about Challenger.  He is a non-releasable Bald Eagle cared for by the non-profit American Eagle Foundation (AEF).  He was blown from his Louisiana nest in a storm in 1989, when 3-5  weeks of age.  He was rescued and hand-fed by well-meaning people.  As a result, he never learned to fish for himself and cannot survive in the wild.  Since at least 1996, Challenger has free-flown at major events around the country, such as at five World Series games and the National Capitol.  His image is on a Tennessee specialty license plate.  No other specific animal has had his image placed on a Coin minted by the U.S. Mint.

Challenger’s rescuers transferred Challenger to the Audubon Zoo of New Orleans.  According to the records of the Alabama biologists, they picked up Challenger at the Audubon Zoo on June 8, 1989, when they estimated his age at eight weeks.  They delivered him to near Scottsboro, Alabama for hacking and later release on Guntersville Lake when first capable of flight at 12-13 weeks age.

Since Challenger was approximately eight weeks age on June 8, 1989, he had been hatched about April 13, 1989.  Challenger therefore celebrates his 22nd birthday on or very near April 13, 2011.

Bald eagles have been documented to live to about 30 years in the wild.  They have lived over 50 years in captivity, where they have good veterinary care.  We therefore hope that Challenger can celebrate at least several more birthdays as a free-flying ambassador of his species.





Posted in Challenger, AEF Free-Flying Bald Eagle, Eagle Coins & Eagle Gifts, Life History, Biology, & Behavior, Propagation/Hacking/Releases, Rehabilitation | 2 Comments