To many Native Americans, the eagle is a sacred messenger that carries their prayers to the Creator. Feathers from these magnificent creatures are used in religious and cultural ceremonies. The soft, white feathers found near the base
of the tail often are used to represent rain clouds in crop planting ceremonies.
Traditionally, shed eagle feathers were collected from the wild. However, years of habitat loss and poaching have
reduced the number of golden and bald eagles in the United States. Today, only Native Americans can own eagles or
eagle parts, according to the National Eagle Repository in Denver, Colo.
“For New Mexico’s Zunis, who use a lot of feathers in their ceremonies, the problem is that there are no active eagle nests on their
reservation,” says Steve Albert, director of the Zuni Fish and Wildlife Department (FWD). “For the past few years, up
to 40 percent of requests from this region to the National Eagle Repository in Denver were from members of the Zuni
Four years ago, Albert began working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide more feathers for the Zunis. “We discovered that there is a shortage of
homes for non-releasable eagles,” he says. “These can be eagles with permanent injuries, or ones that were born in captivity and have imprinted on humans.”
With funding from the Zuni tribe, five private foundations and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Zuni FWD planned a captive eagle flight center. New Mexico
architects Donna Cohen and Claude Armstrong were familiar with pueblo-style architecture and built a full-scale model of dry-laid sandstone with no visible mortar.
Foot injuries are a common problem in captive birds. “Any sharp surfaces can lead to cuts and infections,” Albert says. “The architects studied and followed patterns
of existing eagle flight cages, incorporating vertical wooden slats to prohibit perching on the sides of the cage.”
The Zuni Eagle Flight Center also has pea gravel along the floor and artificial turf on the perches. Construction took approximately one year.
Then the only thing missing was the eagles. “We began collecting birds this year,” he says.
Three golden eagles have made their home at the Zuni Eagle Flight Center since early summer. “We have three males, all 2 to 4 …Read More