POWELL, Wyo. (AP) — After a year and a half of anticipation and preparation, Melissa Hill's goal of adding an eagle to the birds she cares for at Buffalo Bill Center of the West became a reality in January.
Kateri, a female golden eagle, came to the center as part of the Draper Museum of Natural History's raptor education program in Cody after spending five months at the Northeast Wyoming Bird Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Gillette. She was taken to the rehabilitation center after being struck by a vehicle — a semi-truck — on Interstate 90, said Hill, assistant museum curator, who manages the museum's Yellowstone Raptor Experience.
At the rehabilitation center, Kateri underwent surgery to repair a broken wing. But permanent muscle damage prevents her from flying well enough to survive in the wild, Hill said.
Kateri joined four other feathered residents in the mews (bird house) at the Center of the West (formerly the Buffalo Bill Historical Center) on Jan. 21: Teasdale the great-horned owl; Isham, the red-tailed hawk; Hyabusa, the peregrine falcon; and Suli, the turkey vulture. Due to injuries or other problems, each bird is unable to survive in the wild.
Each bird has its own roomy enclosure in the mews, large enough for a person to walk in, interact and handle the bird safely, and to accommodate the bird's wingspan, which in Kateri's case is estimated at about 7 feet.
Hill's preparation for an eagle for the Yellowstone Raptor Experience began long before Kateri's arrival.
"It's a really difficult process (to apply for a permit) for an eagle versus the others," Hill said. "It's a completely different application, and there's a lot more to it. I had to detail all of my previous eagle experience. You have to prove you have worked with them before and are capable and competent to work with one."
In addition, Hill had to provide detailed plans and dimensions for the bird's enclosure, down to the type of perch she would use, and she also was required to describe the educational program, as well as how she would integrate the eagle into the program.
Hill said she also had to have verification from other people that she was capable and qualified to handle the eagle.
Hill has worked with raptors since 1997, beginning with the Laramie Raptor Refuge when she was a student at the University of Wyoming. She later worked with raptors at Reptile Gardens in Rapid City, S.D., and at HawkQuest in Parker, Colo.
Hill finally got the go-ahead for an eagle in January.
Kateri got her name from 8-year-old Chloe Hanson of Cody, who submitted the winning entry in a contest to name the eagle. The name remembers Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), who is honored as the patron saint of people who love nature, work in ecology and work to preserve the natural and human environments, according to information on the center's website.
Hill said identifying Kateri's gender was easy, since she weighs about 12.5 pounds.
"Males are much smaller, usually 8 or 9 pounds," Hill said. "Females in the wild are usually 10 to 11 (pounds). She's just a big golden."
Kateri eats 10-12 ounces of meat — generally rat or rabbit — daily. When the weather is nice, she'll eat less because she won't need extra energy to stay warm.