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Donald, National Eagle Center’s first golden eagle, has died

The National Eagle Center in Wabasha is mourning the loss of Donald, a male golden eagle who passed away March 16. Donald had been at the Center since 2008. His exact age was unknown. Life expectancy for adult eagles in the wild is about 20 – 25 years while eagles in human care with a controlled environment, nutrient rich diet, and veterinary care can live to be 40 years old or older.

Donald was struck by a car in California as an adult, was treated at the California Raptor Center and came to the National Eagle Center in 2008 no longer able to fly or survive in the wild.  

For more than 12 years, Donald served as an educational ambassador for his species, teaching countless National Eagle Center visitors about the biology, behavior, and habitat of golden eagles. He was named for the Donald Weesner Foundation, which provided initial funding for him to come to the National Eagle Center.

Avian care staff recently observed Donald having trouble balancing, changing perches, and eating his food. It was suspected that some of these changes might be the result of a stroke in recent weeks. At a veterinary visit to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota it was learned that he had lost feeling in some of his toes. Eagles, in the wild and in human care, require strong, healthy legs and feet in order to survive. With this poor prognosis, National Eagle Center staff made every effort to ensure Donald’s safety and comfort.

“Donald lived two entire lives: one as a wild golden and the second, with all of us, as an indispensable teacher and inspiration to anyone lucky enough to have met him,” said Tiffany Ploehn, Avian Care Manager at the Center. “It was our honor to make sure he received the best care possible. Our visitors had a special connection to him as did our entire staff. He will be greatly missed.” 

Golden eagles are found worldwide. In North America, they are primarily found in the western states. Golden eagles do not breed in Minnesota or Wisconsin, but they are regular winter residents of the bluff lands of southeast Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa; the Driftless region. Bald and golden eagles are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Act.

The National Eagle Center’s Golden Eagle Project is contributing to the world’s knowledge of this species by surveying the regional population, studying their habitat use and migration patterns. The Project aims to better understand the biology and management needs of golden eagles to ensure their conservation. 

“It was amazing to have Donald as a living golden eagle ambassador side by side with our bald eagle ambassadors to share and showcase the differences between them,” said Scott Mehus, Education Director at the Center.

Why was he here?

Donald was hit by a car and his right wing was broken in two places. He was treated at the California Raptor Center. Donald was no longer able to fly and could not be released back into the wild.

He was named for the Donald Weesner Foundation, which provided funding to bring him to the National Eagle Center.

Golden eagles are found across the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia, North Africa and North America.

They are regular winter inhabitants in the Midwestern United States in the blufflands of southeast Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northeast Iowa, the Driftless region. Learn more about golden eagles …

Basic Facts

  • Golden Eagle

  • Male

  • Hatched in 2002 or earlier

  • Placerville, California

  • Ambassador since 2008