May 07

Welcoming our new golden eagle

Besides the adorable lambs at the Highland Stables, there is another new addition to our animal collection at Busch Gardens. We acquire our animals in many different ways. In the case of many of our parrots, they were once someone’s pet that could no longer care for them. Our bald eagles are rescued after being injured but cannot be returned to the wild. Other animals, we get from Busch Gardens Tampa. This is the case for Aquila, our new golden eagle. A few of my coworkers and I had the opportunity to visit Busch Gardens Tampa and shadow a few animal trainers and educators. We brought Aquila back to Williamsburg with us on February 28.

You may be wondering what the difference is between a bald eagle and a golden eagle, as that is one of the most common questions that I have gotten so far. A main difference, besides appearance, is that golden eagles are considered “true” or “booted eagles.” The feathers on their legs extend down to the toes. Bald eagles are “fish eagles,” meaning that their diet consists mostly of fish. Golden eagles eat mostly mammals. They have the ability to swoop at speeds of up to 200 mph and can take down a large deer and even a wolf! Golden eagles are also typically larger and can have a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet!

Busch Gardens Tampa acquired Aquila in April of 1995 after she was rescued in the southwest U.S. She suffered a gunshot wound and can no longer fly. Her exact age is unknown, but she is likely in her 20s. In the wild these birds can live up to 30 years, but in human care we can expect a longer life. To our surprise, she was never named during her stay at BGT. We had the pleasure of coming up with a name, and we ultimately went with Aquila, which comes from her scientific name, Aquila chrysaetos. It is also the name of the astronomical constellation called “The Eagle.”

Along with naming her, we also took on the challenge of training a new behavior. Beside the exhibit portion of her habitat is what we call a mew, which is basically a big birdhouse. Our main goal is for her to spend her days outside in her habitat in the view of guests and at night return to her mew. This is a new concept for her, so in essence we are trying to teach an old dog a new trick. This is challenging, but not impossible. We use positive reinforcement in everything that we do, so what we have been doing is placing her food closer and closer to the entrance to her mew. Eventually she will feel confident enough to completely enter the mew. She will learn that the mew is a good place to be because she gets her food there.

You can find Aquila across from The Bear’s Paw wood cutters in New France, just across the bridge from Alpengeist. Please stop by and check her out.