Grandfather plans eagle habitat changes
by Kellen Moore
Plans are taking flight at Grandfather Mountain for renovations to its longstanding eagle habitat.
The renovations, set to begin in March, will allow the attraction to boost its current eagle population of one and may allow visitors to see the majestic birds in flight for the first time.
Changes to the habitat have been in planning for several years, as the bald and golden eagle residents began to succumb to old age. A bald eagle named Wilma died in 2010, leaving only a single golden eagle named Morely on the mountain.
Like most of the eagles Grandfather Mountain has hosted, Morely was injured and determined unfit to survive in the wild.
“They came to Grandfather as kind of their final resting place,” said Landis Wofford, a spokeswoman for Grandfather Mountain.
Morely was unable to fully extend one wing due to joint damage and could not fly adequately. He arrived at Grandfather Mountain in 1984.
But birds like Morely are becoming a rarity, as wildlife authorities are now more often euthanizing flightless eagles as a humane gesture, she said.
So when the mountain provides homes for more of the birds of prey in the future, they will likely be eagles that are able to fly fully or in part but have suffered some other type of ailment, said Bonnie Clark, assistant manager of the animal habitats. That might include vision problems or neurological disorders.
To accommodate new birds, Grandfather Mountain is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to renovate the eagle habitat. The attraction is about a quarter of the way to its $200,000 goal, Clark said.
Some of the most avid fundraisers have been students in Caldwell and Avery counties, who held “penny challenges” to raise money. The Caldwell County classrooms raised $9,400 in 2011, and Avery County students contributed another $3,745 in pennies earlier this year.
Contractors plan to install tops to the enclosures and an enclosed flight cage of stainless steel mesh to contain the birds. A partition will allow the staff to separate the cage into two pens if both bald and golden eagles are located or into a single pen if desired, Clark said.
The renovation also will solve another longstanding problem, she added.
“We have ravens that come in and steal our eagles’ food,” Clark said.
The habitat staff does not yet know exactly which birds might fill the new habitat once it is complete.
“We know we’ll be getting some more bald eagles,” Clark said. “They’re fairly easy to come across. There’s a lot of places that have them that need homes for them. … Golden eagles are quite a bit harder to get, so I don’t know that we’ll be able to replace our golden eagles once Morely passes away.”
If all goes as planned, work on the habitat will begin in March and be complete for Dollar Days in April, when admission to the park is $1.
To learn more or donate to the project, visit http://www.grandfather.com.