Sitka raptor center bids farewell to iconic eagle HALi

The Alaska Raptor Center lost one of its famed and feathered ambassadors last month. HALi, a bald eagle, died in early December, due to health reasons. She was around 6 years old.

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HALi was best known for her crossed beak. (Courtesy photo)
HALi was best known for her crossed beak. (Courtesy photo)

HALi, one of the center’s birds used for education, was best known for her crossed beak. Here’s Jennifer smith, the center’s avian education supervisor:

“It gave her a very quizzical expression all the time. She always looked like she was thinking of something mischievous because of that beak.”

The eagle came to the raptor center when she was around 6 months old, after she was found starving in Juneau. At the raptor center, she was known for her playful demeanor bopping around enclosure and bossing around other birds.

“She liked to yell at other bald eagles that were outside,” Smith said. “Even though she is a captive bird she still owns the skies around her.”

Her beak also made her a popular resident at the center. Everyone wanted to adopt HALi.

But her deformed yet distinguishable mouth also caused her lots of trouble. HALi had problems eating because her beak could not rip or tear food properly. To make it easier for her, center staff cut up her fish servings into 1-inch chunks.

“Watching her eat was actually kind of sad because you could see the frustration in her face as she was trying to get the food from the stump into her mouth she wanted to much more quickly than she was capable of eating,” she said.

Her beak also got in the way of her grooming, Smith explains.

“She wasn’t able to get to that preening gland and stimulate it and clean it like she was supposed to,” she said. “It’s a really funky looking thing at the base of their tail. Because she couldn’t use it properly it got backed up and clogged and a little infected.”

That was harmful to her because eagles need to stimulate their preening glands to weatherproof their feathers, Smith says. And because we’re in a rainforest it meant that HALi was pretty chilly.

As you can imagine, her many health problems made her miserable.

“Very cranky, very cranky,” the center’s executive director Peter Colson said. “And in one case she sent one of our curators to the hospital. She ended up doing what we can footing, grabbing with her talons in an aggressive way.”

He says she retired from being an education bird this fall, after spending the summer in Ketchikan in a center outreach program.

Named after Holland America Line, which loaned the center money to buy their plot, HALi lived out her days in an enclosure outside the center, as one of a trio of eagles that oversaw the comings and goings of the tourist destination and avian hospital.

“It was always very cool first thing in the morning to get out of my car, my truck and have those three eagles there,” he said. “I missed coming in the morning and not having her sitting there as part of that welcoming group of birds.”

The center had hoped to have her longer as bald eagles can live from 35 years in the wild to 50 years in captivity, but as Smith says, it is for the best.

“I’m really happy that she’s not suffering anymore,” she said. “It’s a sad loss but it’s good to know she’s not struggling to eat or clean herself or getting soaking wet in a rainstorm anymore.”

Colson says the center is in the process of training other raptors to become education birds and perhaps fill HALi’s perch outside the center.

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