Apollo has landed:
PSU’s Nature Reach welcomes new eagle
Jay Benedict | Managing editor
Delia Lister and Meagan Duffee believe they can turn a shy 10-month-old into an educational extrovert.
That’s their goal for the newest addition to Pittsburg State’s Nature Reach program. A young bald eagle named Apollo arrived at the program’s facility outside of Pittsburg about a week and a half ago, and he’s already started his training.
Apollo became available for placement because he was found injured several months ago, and even after rehab, the injury to his wing was too serious for him to be returned to the wild. Apollo’s placement with Nature Reach would normally be a complex process, but the program previously had another bald eagle which meant it already possessed the necessary permits and was in compliance with state and federal guidelines.
“There were metal fragments in his wing, so we think he was shot,” said Lister, Nature Reach program coordinator. “The ultimate goal of rehab is to return the bird to the wild, but sometimes that’s not possible and then the remaining choices are to place the bird with an educational facility or put it to sleep. When it comes to that, we obviously prefer that the bird be placed somewhere.”
Lister and her assistant Duffee traveled to the Eagle Valley Raptor Center outside Wichita to retrieve Apollo. Lister says the Physical Plant helped by building something called a giant hood to transport the eagle.
“It’s like a big pet carrier,” Lister said “But for birds.”
Duffee has borne most of the responsibility for training Apollo. Duffee has been with the program since 2007 and helped train several of the other 11 raptors under the program’s care. Duffee says she’s using food motivation to train Apollo. He must perch in a certain place to get his food, and then he’ll have to eat from the glove he’ll eventually stand on.
“I can get within about a foot and a half now,” said Duffee, graduate student in biology. “It should be about another week and a half before I can get him to eat from the glove.”
The training will continue after Apollo learns to trust Duffee. She says she’ll start walking him around the enclosure, and then around the facility’s property. Eventually, he’ll be introduced to more and more people until he’s comfortable in front of a crowd.
“The process could take two months or a year,” Duffee said. “Raptors are very stubborn birds, and bald eagles are the most stubborn, but it depends on the bird.”
Lister says Apollo could be a valuable teaching tool for Nature Reach for a long time. Bald eagles in captivity can live up to 50 years. Nature Reach’s other bald eagle, named Aurora, was 31 when she died. Lister estimates Apollo’s age to be about 10 months. Nature Reach presents educational programs about nature and conservation to an assortment of audiences, ranging from elementary school children to senior citizens.
“People are fascinated by such an animal, especially with it being a national symbol,” Lister said. “Their numbers are increasing, so people will be seeing them more and we want to be able to answer any questions they have.”
Hunters are one of the main groups Nature Reach hopes to educate because their hobby can have unintended consequences. Duffee says bald eagles are scavengers and can ingest lead from the bullets and shot that hunters use to kill their game. She says fishermen who use lead sinkers can also harm the birds. Ammunition that remains in carcasses that hunters leave behind or can’t find and fishing weights can be ingested by bald eagles. Duffee says one bullet or weight is enough to do a bird in.
“It’s a great honor to have been with Apollo from day one, and to educate people about ways they can help protect our national symbol,” Duffee said.