Rare opportunity to see bald eagle in flight
by Joan Sparks on April 15, 2013
Sequoia is a 24 year old female Bald Eagle currently living at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, located at 1451 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto.
She originally came from the San Francisco Zoo, but before that she was found by a farmer in his field in the Gilroy area years ago when she was only about a year old. She had been shot in the tail and the damage permanently paralyzed it, prohibiting her from ever being released in the wild with any likelihood of survival. The farmer brought her to the San Francisco facility to be rehabilitated.
Her three knowledgeable, experienced trainers take her out daily to Byxbee Park in Palo Alto for daily exercise – weather permitting. Flying can be difficult for her when there is strong winds so those days are no fly days. These three men have been her sole trainers. John Aiken, the executive director of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, has been her sole trainer since the beginning when he was head of the raptor program at the San Francisco Zoo. John Flynn, a volunteer at the zoo, also followed Sequoia to the Palo Alto location. And Mike Martinez has been her volunteer handler for many years.
Sequoia has a 6-foot wing span, weighs 11 pounds and is about 32 to 34 inches in length. Her eye sight is 6 to 7 times better than humans. Her bones are hollow and her beak and talons are made of keratin. Her life expectance in the wild would be about 30 years but in captivity it is closer to 50 years.
As a juvenile she would have had dark brown and black feathers throughout her body. But at five years and ready to mate, her feathers probably turned white on her head and tail and her beak became the vibrant orange- yellow. Her eye color also changes from brown as a juvenile to soft yellow as an adult.
She eats raw rodents and quail prepared by her trainers — no veggies for her. Male and female eagles look alike except the female has a larger longer beak and the diameter of her legs is larger. Bald eagles mate for life. Sequoia’s daily exercise excursions are helping her improve her flying skills. She flys from one trainer to another spaced about one-quarter to a half mile mile apart. Upon blowing a whistle, she takes off the arm of one trainer to another where a meat treat awaits her arrival. Her daily exercise is only about 20 to 30 minutes.
Sequoia is an absolutely gorgeous Bald Eagle and worth the visit on a quiet afternoon to Byxbee Park to see her in action. Put on your comfortable walking shoes and take a brief hike out to the telephone poles for a thrill you haven’t experienced before. Her exercise regime is Monday – Friday 4:00pm, weekend and holidays 2:00pm. There is no fee for parking or getting into the park.
Joan Sparks is a Cupertino-based photographer and contributor to Bay Nature. See more of her photography.