SULLIVAN: golden eagle
Sullivan, an adult male golden eagle, is one of our most popular "Education Ambassadors" at the Center. In February 2012, Good Samaritans found him on the ground in Chular, California, very thin and unable to fly. They took him to the Monterey County SPCA, who transferred him to us. Our veterinarians' examination revealed such a badly broken left wing that his wingtip required amputation. This also meant he could not be returned to the wild, as he would never fly again.
After his surgery at the UCD Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH), Sullivan was returned to the Center for rehabilitation. The goal was to determine if he could live without stress in a cage, in the constant presence of humans.
Sullivan quickly settled into his new home, so in May 2012, Bret Stedman, Manager of the Center, suggested that he might make a good candidate for becoming an "Education Bird" helping to teach others about raptors and our environment. Under Bret's guidance, volunteer Brenton Pierce took on the job of training Sullivan to work with a handler in the Center's public presentations.
In the training process, a non-releasable raptor is fitted with anklets and jesses, to which a leash is attached. This offers some control over the bird's actions while an experienced handler teaches, through patient daily sessions, the bird to accept the company of a human partner. Eventually Education Birds must also be able to remain calm in front of a crowd, and some are further trained to accept traveling in a crate for presentations in the Center's programs at schools and other community groups. The process can take time, particularly with a bird as powerful as a golden eagle.
Sullivan progressed well, and after a month or so was successfully introduced to an audience of volunteers. Not long afterward, he made his public debut before an enthralled young lad, his parents, and young friends, who were enjoying his birthday celebration at the Center.
In January 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted Sullivan as a permanent Education Ambassador for the Center. In 2015, when our new eagle housing was completed, Sullivan was put into a large new cage with our female golden eagle Fuzzy. They are getting along just fine.