Harriet’s Story: One Eagle’s Impact
Harriet, the National Eagle Center’s first eagle ambassador, passed away on May 26, 2016 at 35 years of age. Harriet was an amazing ambassador and touched thousands of lives in her lifetime. Watch this brief video to learn more about Harriet’s life and impact.
Harriet's Early Life
In the spring of 1981, long before she would meet adoring crowds, Harriet hatched in a large eagle’s nest 86 feet up in a white pine on Palmer Lake in Vilas County, WI. In June of that year, a researcher with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) climbed up to the nest and banded this young eaglet. Harriet lived seventeen years in the wild, and in that time did all the things wild eagle do. She soared and hunted over the land and lakes of Northern Wisconsin. She also raised a family of her own. She would have probably started breeding at age five or six, finding a territory and mate to build a nest and raise young. She would have returned to that same nest each year, and may have raised 1-3 young each year.
Unfortunately, Harriet’s days in the wild were cut short when she was struck by a vehicle in 1998. The small band that was placed around her leg in 1981 would remain there and make it possible to identify this eagle all those years later. In a remarkable turn of events, the very same WI DNR biologist, Ron Eckstein, who had banded her seventeen years earlier received the call to rescue this injured eagle on the road. When he saw the band and checked his records, Eckstein knew that they had met before.
How Harriet got her name
Shortly after she arrived at the National Eagle Center in 2000, local students in Wabasha were asked to write an essay about a famous American that we could honor by naming this eagle. A first grader wrote an essay about Harriet Tubman, and Harriet the eagle got her name.
Work with veterans
Harriet became most famous for her work with veterans that ultimately earned her a place on the Minnesota Support Our Troops license plate. For years, Harriet was a regular visitor to VA hospitals, visiting wounded veterans and giving them the chance to meet our national symbol up close. Since Harriet herself had visible injuries, she was a ray of hope and a pillar of strength for many wounded warriors.
A famous eagle
Thousands of visitors over the years came to recognize Harriet by the feather tuft atop her head. This distinctive feather growth was the result of scar tissue and damage to feather follicles that occurred in the vehicle collision. In that collision in 1998, Harriet also sustained injuries to her left wing and a portion of that wing ultimately had to be amputated. Although she would never fly again, Harriet’s determination and spirit would continue to inspire thousands of people.
Harriet was the first eagle ambassador and literally put the National Eagle Center on the map. She traveled to New York City and Los Angeles for appearances on national television, including the Today Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. In 2007, Harriet appeared in Washington DC to celebrate the removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list.
In 2015, due to her advancing age and increased arthritis, Harriet retired from programming. In addition to medications to manage her pain, Harriet was moved to offsite housing where National Eagle Center staff could better manage her health needs.
In recent days, Harriet had not been eating, an indication that she was near the natural end of her life. Without the medications provided through her food, she was in increasing pain. There were simply no more interventions that could extend and improve Harriet’s quality of life. On Wednesday, May 25th, National Eagle Center staff took Harriet to The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota where she was euthanized.
“We believe the kindest thing to do was to keep her from a painful end and let her die peacefully in expert care”, said Rolf Thompson, National Eagle Center, Executive Director. “The Raptor Center has provided care for Harriet (and indeed, all our avian ambassadors) from the start. When they told us there is nothing more we can do, we knew that the time had come to let her go.”
As an eagle that lived nearly half her life in the wild, Harriet can be considered quite old. Wild eagles might be expected to reach just 20-25 years of age. With her advanced age, and impacts from her injuries, Harriet experienced on-going medical issues including arthritis and cataracts. The National Eagle Center is grateful to The Raptor Center for the expertise and care they provide for all our ambassador birds, and for so many wild birds of prey.
The National Eagle Center is committed to continuing the work that Harriet began, inspiring people to care for eagles and the habitats on which they depend by offering personal encounters with these majestic birds. Current eagle ambassadors Angel, Columbia, Donald and Was’aka continue to meet and inspire thousands of visitors each year. Soon the newest member of the team, a young male bald eagle who is currently in training, will join them soon.
Learn more about Harriet
Photos of Harriet
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