Non Releasable Eagle Program
In some cases, an eagle (or other raptor) who goes through our rehab program may still have suffered an injury that leaves it unsuitable for release back to the wild. It may have flight problems, or vision problems, or cardiovascular problems that make a life in the wild virtually impossible, and release a certain death sentence.
In such cases, a decision needs to be made as to whether that bird is suitable for a life in an educational program. Numerous facilities around the world make use of non-releasable raptors for education. Meeting one of these birds up close and personal makes a lasting impact on people, and the educational value is not to be denied. These non-releasable raptors become ambassadors for their species. They endure a life in captivity educating people so that others of their species can avoid similar fates.
Not all non-releasable raptors are suited for a life in such a program. We have a staff of experienced eagle handlers who evaluate each bird on an individual basis to determine whether it can handle the rigors of life in an education setting. If the bird is deemed suitable for education use, the handler will work with the bird over a long period of time getting it manned and trained for eventual placement at a properly accredited facility. Our staff also provides a "train the trainer" environment, working closely with the staff at the facility to ensure a smooth transition to the bird's permanent home.
While we strive to release every bird we take in back to the wild, the reality is that it's just not possible. Most raptors do not show injury or illness until they are deathly ill, and trying to capture a raptor that is injured is difficult at best, especially while it is still strong. Unfortunately, by the time such a bird is captured and brought in for treatment, the injuries have often progressed beyond the point of routine treatment. Broken bones begin to knit in the wrong position, damaged ligaments and tendons scar beyond repair, tissue becomes necrotic and is lost, and other similar problems present themselves. Eye injuries are particularly difficult; since a raptor's vision must be exceptionally keen to capture prey and avoid other predators. Aspergillosis takes its toll on many eagles. Even after aggressive treatment, many eagles with Asper are unable to return to the wild.
It is never easy to determine whether a bird, once declared non-releasable, is suitable for life in captivity. Since raptors usually hide fear, stress, or disease, it takes a practiced eye to evaluate a bird's response to life around humans.
There are a wide variety of education environments that could end up as the permanent home for one of our eagles. Some facilities have aviaries where a bird can live as a "display bird". Others include programs where the eagles work with handlers and are taught using time-honored falconry techniques to stand on the fist and go to school programs, outdoor events, and the like. Still others utilize free-flight programs, where flighted but non-releasable birds are used to demonstrate flight, hunting, and social behaviors.
Each bird is a completely unique individual, and a bird that will thrive in one setting may be unhappy in another, and vice-versa. Our staff spends a lot of time with each bird, learning what motivates it and what will provide it with the best possible long-term enrichment. These findings are used to man and train the bird, working to prepare it for its future life. Our handlers get to know these birds very well. The bird and handler develop a bond, working with positive reinforcement and reward systems to forge a relationship built on trust and respect. Our eagle handlers are all experienced falconers. The techniques used in the art of falconry have been used to form this type of bond for millennia. Most facilities that care for raptors utilize these techniques to varying degrees, and CFBP is no exception. The techniques work, and the falconers on our staff are passionate about the birds, devoting many hours on a daily basis to them.
We spend time with the facilities that will be the permanent home for our birds. We want to ensure that the bird will have a good home, with proper care and adequate enrichment. While these birds will never be able to soar free, hunt, and find mates again, there are numerous well-documented methods of enriching their lives that contribute to long life and good health in captivity. We evaluate the programs at the facility, assisting the handlers and management in learning their new bird's personality, likes, and dislikes. We provide advice on handling, husbandry, enrichment, health, and safety. Our goal and mandate is to provide a well-manned and trained bird to a facility that has adequate knowledge and experience to handle an eagle safely and confidently. This results in a bird that will be used to the best of its ability to educate people, with the long-term goal of being able to reduce the number of injured raptors that come into rehab centers.
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