Bald eagle briefly annoyed on return to handler


Click on photos to enlarge.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

A large bald eagle from the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, which had been visiting the Menlo Park area since Saturday, returned to its handler at around 6 p.m. Monday in a churchyard in the Friendly Acres area of Redwood City, said John Aikin, the executive director of the zoo, on Monday night.

What persuaded the female eagle to come down from its perch? Hunger and thirst, some prompting by a handler using hand gestures and a whistle, and the tossing of a dead quail in such a way that the eagle could see it, Mr. Aikin said. The eagle, named Sequoia, "ate a quail and a mouse and looked at us like we were all to blame," he said, referring to an eagle's practice of making its feathers stand out to show that it's irritated. But her irritation quickly faded. "She just sat calmly on the (gloved) fist and was happy to be back," Mr. Aikin said.

Sequoia had been tree-sitting over the past weekend in the Suburban Park area of Menlo Park and in North Fair Oaks neighborhood. Her handlers allow her to fly free every day in Byxbee Park at the eastern end of Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto, the exceptions being very hot days and when she is molting. "We like her to go out and soar circles so people can watch her fly," Mr. Aikin said.

She is released on weekend days at around 2 p.m. and on weekdays at 4 p.m., Mr. Aikin said. Her schedule can be found on Facebook and the zoo's website, he said.

About every three years or so, Sequoia goes on a three-day vacation, Mr. Aikin said. But because she's vacationing without the benefit of her handlers being there, food and water become hard to find. When they returned her to her enclosure in Palo Alto, "she jumped right down into her bathtub and drank heartily," Mr. Aikin said.

She does not feed herself. Her hunting skills are hampered by a diminished ability to use her tail feathers, the result of a gunshot wound when she was young. That, and she was not raised in the wild. "I've never known her to kill anything," Mr. Aikin said.

This soon-to-be 25-year-old eagle has been cared for at the Palo Alto zoo for the past six months, Mr. Aikin said. Before that, she lived at the San Francisco Zoo, where she had been since she was six months old. Mr. Aikin tended to her there as well, he said.

She is capable of extended flight -- she once flew to Ano Nuevo State Reserve in Pescadero from San Francisco, Mr. Aikin said. Why let her fly? "She likes it, we like it, and we think it's a great way to see a bald eagle," Mr. Aikin said. Sequoia is taken on visits to organized groups, and organized groups sometimes visit her. She has a wingspan of about seven feet. While there is inherent risk in letting her loose, the burden is worth the cost, he said. "It's so spectacular to see her fly."

The San Francisco Zoo ended its eagle breeding program, and Mr. Aikin managed to have Sequoia transferred to Palo Alto, though as is the case with all bald eagles, Sequoia is the property of the U.S. government.

In this incident, she had come within three feet of a handler's leather glove but flew off, perhaps because she was confused. "She'll fly around to look for a way to get to us," he said. "We're really in a waiting game until she feels comfortable enough and motivated enough to come down."

Bald eagles are flighty and high-strung, he said. Something as innocent as a colorful piece of clothing can be alienating. For food, she likes dead rats, mice, quail, rabbit and fish.

Last Saturday (Feb. 23), North Fair Oaks resident Scott Peterson told the Almanac that he'd been out in his backyard around 4 p.m. and had seen a large bird soaring a couple of hundred feet above some redwood trees. "I noticed it because it was so large," he said.

Mr. Peterson said that he'd been unaware that he might have been looking at an eagle. "That was a huge, huge bird," he said, "the biggest bird I've seen in 30 years of living here."

Photographer and Menlo Park resident Jim Vanides observed Sequoia and photographed her the next day around 5 p.m. from Hedge Road in incorporated Menlo Park. He said he spotted the eagle in pine trees along the Dumbarton railroad spur line near the Suburban Park area of Menlo Park.

Earlier story: Bald eagle plants herself in Palo Alto.

— Dave Boyce

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Julie
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 25, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I saw her fly northbound above my back yard at 3:15 PM. Clearly a mature bald eagle, white head and all. What a treat for us!

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Great story I saw on evening news bird is back with handler. Found in Redwood City, Great ending.

Like this comment
Posted by Chic choc
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Pretty sure I saw the eagle at Felt Lake around 6pm, harassing some other birds in the lake.

Like this comment
Posted by Sybille
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 27, 2013 at 9:35 am

This animal is fortunate to have the best of both worlds: good care due to being partially disabled and still frequent freedom to fly and soar. The only way to keep an animal in captivity, as I see it! Good work, great article.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 6, 2017 at 2:50 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong 2.0? Former waiter reopens Chinese standby under new name in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 3,803 views

What is a "ton" of carbon dioxide anyway?
By Sherry Listgarten | 15 comments | 2,480 views

Living as Roommates? Not Having Much Sex?
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,430 views

Holiday Traditions
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 399 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Almanac readers and foundations contributed over $150,000.