A young Bald Eagle that captured the attention – and hearts – of nest camera viewers will live the rest of his life at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. after months of rehabilitation at the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey.
Connick the Bald Eagle hatched in January in a nest streamed online via the popular Captiva Island Eagle Cam. Viewers tuned in over the first months of Connick’s life as the young eaglet grew stronger and began to branch, or jump to nearby branches as a preliminary step in learning to fly. But some eagle-eyed viewers noticed Connick dropping feathers in an unusual way, possibly impacting his future flight abilities, and at around 12 weeks old, Connick fell from his nest after attempting to branch. Rescuers from the nearby Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) transported the eaglet to their facility, where he was examined and treated for anemia. Three weeks later, he was transferred to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland for further rehabilitation.
After more than four months in rehab, Center for Birds of Prey staff deemed Connick nonreleasable due to what they determined to be a genetic feather condition. So began the search for a permanent home for the bird. The National Zoo was an obvious first choice because of the quality of the open-air Bald Eagle enclosure there and the fact that they only have one other eagle in their care, a young female named Acadia.
Connick will make the journey north early next year, and after a quarantine and assessment period, he is expected to be on exhibit at the National Zoo in 2024. In the meantime, the Center for Birds of Prey is ensuring Connick has the skills he needs to thrive in his future home.
The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey’s ultimate goal is to rehabilitate and release every one of the more than 700 birds that come through its doors each year, and just over 40 percent of them do return to the wild. Patients that survive but cannot be returned to the wild due to disability or injury are placed in qualified zoos or sanctuaries across the country. Eagles in rehabilitation at the Center have contributed to scientists’ understanding of their species through numerous research projects, including eagle sexing studies, lead test analysis, and an ongoing auxiliary banding study that examines nesting habits.
"Bald Eagles are a conservation success story, but with more than 2,500 breeding pairs in Florida, we know that each one remains important. As important indicators of a healthy ecosystem, the health of Florida’s Bald Eagle population remains a priority,” says Center Director Katie Gill-Warner. “When Bald Eagles cannot be released and become ambassador birds, they inspire people of all ages to care about places birds need now and into the future."