Fly Away Home

So, Spirit is just that. After a long week of seizures and unresponsive lethargy, she’s moved on. Lots of e-mails back and forth among volunteers and friends; here was my final note on the subject:


What will happen with Spirit’s remains? Will she go to the National Eagle Repository in Denver? This isn’t really just morbid curiosity on my part; I’m remembering what happened when we had an eagle die at Lincoln Park Zoo and some were comforted by the knowledge that, in a way, a celebration of that creature’s life would go on, quite literally.

For my part, I was crushed yesterday when I got Gabe’s not unexpected and beautifully wrought two line e-mail. I was teaching a whole day workshop so I wasn’t in a position to just cut loose with tears. Last night we had Chicago guests from the moment I arrived home, but by the time I had a couple glasses of wine over dinner, I found myself talking about my relatively brief (18 month) love affair with Spirit. I told them about the first time I cleaned her mews, warily crouching and scooting around, pooper scooper in hand, thinking, “damn. That’s a big bird sitting up there.” When she hopped down next to me as I got near her bath tub, I think the ground shook. I went absolutely still and thought, “okay, she’s not going to hurt me, that kindly professor guy wouldn’t send me in here to get mauled…” as Spirit and I eyeballed each other from a level distance of less than 3 feet. I slowly and cautiously reached to pull the plug on her tub and she threw back her head and let go with that enormous warbling shriek and that was quite nearly the end of my volunteering at Boyd Hill. Instead of fleeing, I stayed where I was and told her a bit about myself. She indicated I should stop chattering, just fill the tub and get the beef heart.

From then on she never failed to greet me, as she did with so many of us. I always knew when Melissa, Nancy, Cindy or Gabe were around because I could overhear her conversations with them from the other end of the aviary, where I often start with the ESOs. About three weeks after I started working at Boyd we had a raptor behavior expert in to give a talk and as we followed him around Spirit called out and he pointed out, with great authority, that that was her call of alarm and agitation. Since I was the newbie on the block I didn’t say, “That’s total BS” but I did think it.

Spirit was a captive bird and she acted, in lots of ways, like a captive bird. She had behaviors that were tied to our interactions with her and for me, that made it all the easier to think about her with some of the same love and affection I have for my pets at home. With her great expressions and whacky hop, she was an easy target for anthropomorphism. For all I know, she merely hailed me as the hand that fed or delivered fresh water (her favorite). Maybe she liked my white hair. Added to that was her stature and beauty and now I think how truly fortunate I’ve been to get to know her. How many of us are blessed with the opportunity to scoop poop and whap dead mullet down for such a magnificent creature? Seriously, I feel as though knowing Spirit has been one of life’s better blessings.

Since her surgery and particularly the one day I was in the trailer while she was still crated and we were wrestling her to give her meds, I’d been thinking how really crummy her life had become, really fast. She looked ratty and dirty, scared and anxious. I was so happy the day she went out to the little enclosure and even perched only 8 inches off the ground, she looked immediately better and it seemed as though there might be a happy outcome after all. Today, I’m really okay that she’s gone, no longer captive or confused or in pain. I’m miserable over my loss but happy for her. Our Chicago friends want to visit Boyd Hill today and see the birds I talk about all the time and send pictures of in e-mails. I’m bracing myself for some more sorrow but still, counting my blessings. How lucky were we all- Spirit and her friends and caretakers at Boyd Hill- to have known each other?   Cheers, Vicki


The answer to the question about her remains is that she will indeed go to the Federal Bald and Golden eagle repository in Ft. Collins, CO.  Her feathers will adorn the ceremonial dress of any number of Native American groups so she will live on in a physical presence and in the spirit of those who are truly the people of our earth. I was down at Boyd Hill yesterday with our neighbors from up north and we visited with the raptors and then went over to the marsh boardwalk and draped over the railing, quietly taking in the sun. There were lots of baby gators also basking, along the shore and out on low lying limbs. We usually say a foot a year, so there were 1st, 2nd and 3rd year babies about, with 10 foot mum keeping track in a comatose sort of way. Those big ones never move until they move so I took a moment to admonish a couple of hooligans who were thinking it might be a good idea to whap her on the nose with a long stick.

And so it goes. I’m really very sad and sorry for myself but trying to think about this in some Native American cycle-of-life sort of way. That’s only working so well.

All the leaves are falling off the trees here in St. Petersburg so that means it’s Spring. Go figure. I haven’t made my daily call to Asheville yet to find out how building is progressing but I’m hoping warming temps make for more progress. Here’s wishing you a hint of Spring as your week begins.

13 responses to “Fly Away Home

  1. I had my hint of spring this past weekend, when a blue bird took a bath in my birdbath and yellow crocuses popped up between the fallen leaves.

    I’m so sorry about Spirit, but could she have been more loved? I think not. This is a fitting and excellent tribute to her and I am glad to know that her feathers will live on in Native American headdresses.

    Here’s hoping you like the art teacher; I suspect you will, since you are both creative people, and I hope it means an end to the touring – so you can see your son more often.
    Hope Abby’s news will be good!

  2. I feel so blessed to have visited Boyd Hill when Spirit was there admonishing all and letting everyone know of her existence! I’m sorry for your loss, for I could definitely tell she was a favorite (as are all of your feathered friends!), but yes, she was as happy as she could have been!

    Beautiful tribute, Vicki.

  3. A beautiful tribute to a bird of true spirit. It’s such sad news that she has passed on, but her last few days were spent in the care of people who genuinely cared and loved her. She may have preferred the company of eagles, but not even eagles are surrounded with love like that at the end. A wave good bye and a farewell to Spirit.

  4. Our own… still wild… eagles took another flight over our yard yesterday… and I thought of you and Spirit. Soon the nesting pair at the botanical garden here will return… their area respectfully roped off and the cycle of life will begin again.

  5. Sorry to hear she’s gone.
    That was a fine tribute to her and those who worked with her.

  6. I wrote the following in a letter to Bud today. I know Vicki values a lot of you so I thought I would share it with you too. Rich


    Spirit, the bald eagle at Boyd Hill where Vicki volunteers, died on Saturday. Quite a sad, but in a way wonderful, story. She was an old gal in Eagle years, 27. She probably would not have lived that long in the wild.

    They found her upside down hanging by a foot on a perch a few weeks back. Her leg was broken and I think the assumption was her talon got stuck as she swayed and tumbled over which broke her leg. They did surgery to repair it and she seemed to be on the mend and then an infection took over and she was gone in a few days. I suspect she had an infection which caused her to fall off the perch in the first place. So it was in the natural way of things for her to go.

    But that’s not why the story is wonderful, it’s just the way she went. What was wonderful was the relationship Vicki got to enjoy with her and how that came to be. Had we stayed in Ann Arbor, Vicki would have continued to work as therapist and every year she would have been even more burned out than she was when we left in 2006.

    Had we not moved to Chicago in a house blocks from the zoo she would not have had the Lincoln Park Zoo opportunity to learn so much about animals and work with them. Had she not had that zoo experience, she would not have been so openly embraced by Boyd Hill here in St. Pete. Well, for that matter, had we not moved to St. Pete, we wouldn’t have known about Boyd Hill. But anyway, without the zoo experience, she wouldn’t have gotten to work directly with the magnificent birds at Boyd.

    At Boyd, about a year ago, she started in-cage interaction with Spirit. Vicki tells of the those experiences much better than I can, but I’ll summarize to say the two bonded. Hundreds of people visit Boyd every day and went to see Spirit. She was a mostly quiet girl. But EVERY time Vicki & I came within sight of her Spirit would literally shriek with delight. There was a certain awareness and connection between Vicki and a most treasured and honored bird in our culture.

    As it was becoming clear that Spirit would not survive it just killed me to see how this was hurting Vicki. At the same time, I had this sense of something more to the whole thing. I believe there is a God who appreciates all Vicki has done for others and this appointment to meet Spirit and bond with her, even for a short time, was God’s way of saying “Thanks!” to her.


    We took friends for a tour of BH yesterday . A bitter sweet experience. Vicki held up well.

    We got a double treat. First, it’s mating season for the birds and they have a big female Barred Owl. While we were looking at it in the cage there was a big male up in the tree looking on with great interest. That was treat one.

    As we were leaving BH, we walked past Spirit’s empty cage. That was just plain rough. But no more than five blocks from the preserve as we were driving home we saw a bald eagle flying overhead. We saw it perch on a cell tower and got to stop and enjoy it for a while.

    Sometimes the best gifts don’t come in packages.

  7. Ah, Spirit–fly free forever unbound.

  8. Oh, Rich. How sweet you are. Comfort your girl and give her a big hug from me. I am truly sorry.

  9. I love eagles, but I have never had the opportunity to get close to one as you did with Spirit. May her feathers continue to connect people with what she stood for. She was beautiful.

  10. I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore. xoxo.

  11. Pingback: tears in heaven

  12. What a wonderful post. *she types with tears running down her cheeks*


  13. Condolences dear Vicki. And yes, I agree with Rich. There is a God who wholly appreciates who you are and what you do.

    My ESO’s are back despite a squirrels mad attempts to occupy the nest box. Hopefully we’ll have more ESOwletts this year!

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