Ramps were built to allow the injured eagles that can no longer fly to move to higher elevations. Photo credit: Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
First TWG Funded Aviary in the United States
Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma
For the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, eagles are thought of as family members, not just as sources of feathers. Eagles that die in their care are buried as revered family.
The Grey Snow Eagle House operates under two permits issued by the Service. The Indian Religious-Use Permit allows the Tribe to house eagles that are non-releasable due to the nature or severity of the injuries. This permit also allows the tribe to gather naturally molted feathers and distribute them to tribal members for use in cultural ceremonies. The second permit allows the Tribe to rehabilitate eagles for their eventual release.
In partnership with the Zuni Pueblo, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, applied for a Tribal Wildlife Grant (TWG) in 2005 with the purpose of establishing an Aviary. This was a key step in establishing the first TWG-funded Aviary in the United States.
Eagle in the aviary. Photo credit: Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
With permits in place and funds in hand, the Iowa Tribe built a facility that housed 23 bald eagles and 8 golden eagles. Today, with recent expansions, the Iowa Tribe houses 35 non-releasable eagles (7 Golden Eagles and 28 Bald Eagles) which are cared for by an Aviary Manager, six staff members and volunteers. The aviary manager is a Service certified eagle rehabilitator and an Iowa tribal elder and Vietnam veteran. Only Tribal members can handle the birds. Before they can work in the facility, each one of the staff must be accepted by the eagles. If the birds react in a negative way, that individual may not work in the facility. Once accepted, the new member receives specialized training before they can handle or care for the eagles.
To further their ability to care for the eagles, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma developed an eagle rehabilitation program that not only protects injured birds, but also increases community awareness of wildlife and Native American culture. They are the first tribe in the country to be permitted through the Service as an eagle rehabilitator.
The Tribe has successfully rehabilitated eight bald eagles in their clinic and released them back into the wild, including one to the Sequoia National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.
Internationally-known, the Iowa Tribe opens the doors of the facility to more than 6,700 visitors from around the world annually.
There are several plans for expansion in the future, including a special unit to permanently house educational birds. The Bah Kho-je Xla Chi (Grey Snow Eagle House) was completed in January 2006, through another TWG awarded by the Service, and funding from other sources.
The immaculate caging at the facility currently consists of two flight cages, two side mews, a rehabilitation cage and two quarantine cages. The main flight cage is 100 feet long by 25 feet wide and 18 feet high. A mini flight cage is 100 feet long by 24feet wide and 14 feet high. The rehabilitation cage is 150 feet long by 25feet by 18feet high. A variety of different cages are needed so that birds can be housed according to their injuries.
"With the TWG, the Service planted the seed, but the Iowa Tribe nurtured the project and helped it flourish. We provided the technical expertise, and they keep it going," explains Dr. Tuggle.
Eagle undergoes a veterinary exam. Photo credit: Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
On September 5, 2012, Mr. Victor Roubidoux, Wildlife Manager of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma’s Grey Snow Eagle House, recognized Regional Director, Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, for his support of Tribal-operated eagle aviaries.
The Iowa Tribe was awarded two TWGs. The first went towards the initial construction, and the second was used to help fund the expansion of the safe haven for eagles.
All Aviaries are permitted with a specific number of flighted and non-flighted eagles based on the size and layout of their facility. They collect molted feathers (eagles molt once and sometimes twice per year) and distribute them to enrolled tribal members for use in religious and cultural ceremonies. Feathers are not plucked from live birds.