Frequently asked questions (and answers) about bald eagle ambassador Decorah
Last updated 6 December 2018; Compiled from the Live Facebook Video celebrating this eagle’s 4th Hatchaversary and additional “conversations” with Decorah, including this #GivingTuesday 2018 video.
What happened to Decorah that he is now with SOAR?
This bald eagle is from the Decorah, Iowa nest N2 near the Decorah Fish Hatchery (yes, of Raptor Resource Project (RRP) Decorah Eagle cam fame). The eaglet may have prematurely left the nest and suffered traumatic impact of some kind. This eagle had a fractured humerus bone and a laceration on his little eagle butt. Bob Anderson and another young man rescued this eaglet from the creek below the nest on 22 June 2014 and started him on his transport to SOAR for evaluation. Click here for his patient record. Folks with intimate knowledge (RRP volunteers) felt strongly this eaglet was D20 (D for Decorah and the 20th egg produced by this pair of eagles).
The fracture to his right humerus was very close to the shoulder joint and instead of being a cross-section break, was an oblique break – the bone was broken the long way at an angle. On initial x-ray, the veterinarian could tell that the bones had reversed. During surgery, the bones were put in place and pinned to hold them together while the bone mended.
The humerus bone healed with a calcified lump formed at the fracture site. That calcified lump is part of the healing process but does not allow for that shoulder joint to work properly. This eagle cannot extend his right wing.
The horrible laceration to his little eagle bum did permanent damage to five tail feather follicles. He has seven tail feathers of the 12 he should have.
Can this bald eagle be released?
Our veterinarian concluded the way the right humerus healed that the eagle could not extend that wing and flight would not be possible, so would not be releasable. The best outcome now would be for this eagle to become an education bird.
SOAR made application to our Regional US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) office requesting this eagle be transferred from Kay’s rehabilitation permit to SOAR’s live eagle exhibition permit.
Read this post about the start of Decorah’s training.
How is the training going for Ambassador Decorah?
Decorah is still working on ‘sitting the fist’ and how to regain the fist with Kay’s assistance. With Decorah’s limited right wing movement, when he bates (flies or moves from the fist), he has all this power with his left wing and pretty much zero power with his right, so it looks awkward, and he needs help regaining the fist.
At most programs with our education eagles, the eagles are on a bow perch. Our ambassador bald eagles all need to learn to navigate being tethered to the bow perch. This is also part of Decorah’s training. When Decorah is in his outside weathering area (to feel the full weather of the day) he is tethered or leashed to the perch. See photo below.
How much does Decorah weigh?
Decorah weighs about 8.5 pounds, an average weight for a male bald eagle.
Does Decorah live in his own space or does he share with bird friends?
Decorah gets around really well in his 10’ x 20’ enclosure and he is by himself. He can see and hear other bald eagles. We want to make sure that he eats the food put in there for him. We keep his perches fairly low to accommodate his mobility issues. He has a couple favorite spots he likes to sit and look out the window. He has a child’s wading pool, which seems to be very important to our eagles. They really spend quite a bit of time in the water bathing.
Will he ever have a roost-mate? We’ll have to cross that bridge later… Spirit and Liberty, the original two education bald eagles at SOAR, are housed together, and they do go through pair bonding and nest building. This makes it very difficult to handle them during the hormone fluctuations and the aggressive behaviors. With Decorah, we’d like to avoid those aggressive behaviors. It may just work better for him to be by himself.
Most of our education birds do not have roommates on a permanent basis. When a bird is compromised with a permanent disability, you really have to watch the interactions so that one bird does not steal food, is not too dominant, or aggressive.
Decorah has served as a ‘model eater’ for birds coming out of intensive care. This is a situation that is closely monitored to ensure that Decorah has enough to eat and is not bullied. For exampble, Decorah did have a ‘roommate’ for much of October 2015 as the eagle admitted from the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge was in recovery… but as an adult female that is flighted, once she had regained strength, she was no longer appropriate to stay with Decorah.
Will Decorah be biologically capable of procreation? Do you see him ever having a mate or will he be single all his life?
Girls are gross! (Tee hee!) Raptor propagation requires a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). At this point, in our FWS region, they are not issuing bald eagle propagation permits. Plus with his wing injury, most likely he will not be able to successfully fertilize a female.
Will his injury affect his life-span?
No, the injury to his right wing will not impact life span. He will live longer because he is in captivity.
Does Decorah have any unique characteristics/behaviors you may not see in any of the other eagles at SOAR?
He has been a talker, a bit more conversational than Thora. More downplayed than Thora, who is loud and commands the attention of the room.
What is Decorah’s message when is assisting with programs?
All the SOAR education birds have a job to get people excited to see a live bird close up! Then we want folks to go outside and do some bird watching and spend time in nature. Through that you learn about habitat… they need to have their space, prey items, a water source, and an appropriate place to nest. The more folks know and understand about a specific animal, the environment, and all that share the same space, the more likely they are to help care for our environment. Click to read Ambassador Decorah’s listing.
Our bald eagles can also help teach about the hazards of lead ammunition.
What does Decorah like to eat the most?
Eagles like fish. That’s why thousands of eagles come to Iowa in the winter for the open water and fishing opportunities. Carp… eagles love carp. Decorah would eat about a one-pound carp a day. He’ll eat everything except the protective gill plate. He will digest the entire carp and not spit out a pellet.
As fish eaters, eagles depend on water clarity and water quality for successful hunting.
Plus, and fortunately for us, he’s not picky… he likes all kinds of fish, plus quail and rats!
Are Decorah’s head and tail feathers, beak, and eyes starting to look more like an adult?
As of April 2018, you can start to see his beak changing color. His eyes are still brown, but are definitely lighter. As he molts this summer (2018), Kay is expecting more white on his head and tail feathers. He’s got another good year before we’ll see a white head and tail.
Read this post about how bald eagles age.
Do bald eagles have any natural predators?
Bald eagles sit at the top of their food pyramid, so have no natural predators. Humans can certainly negatively influence an eagle’s habitat and food source causing harm.