Monday was a monumental day for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. They officially opened an aviary designed to provide eagles, those which have been severely injured and unable to survive in the wild, with a lifetime of food, protection, and care. Such conditions can result in an eagle living for nearly 50 years, much longer than those exposed to life in the wild.
Youngsters from the tribal grade school were bussed to the location south of Tensed, Idaho where they joined adults to hear about the historical importance of these majestic birds to native peoples. That was followed by a visit to the aviary to see the first eagles to be housed here, two bald eagles and three golden eagles. The numbers of eagles in this aviary will no doubt increase as additional injured birds arrive.
“It’s an awesome project,” said tribal chairman Ernie Stensgar. “We didn’t see many eagles when I was a young man, not even down by the lake. Now we see eagles fly over. They are so beautiful I wish the old ones could see that, the return of the eagles.”
The tribe had to first get a proposal approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department enabling the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to build an aviary for eagles and to collect their feathers for use in ceremonial events. Other tribes will also be able to ask for feathers. The Coeur d’Alenes are the only tribe in the northwest with this federal permit. The only federal repository is located in Colorado and is normally backlogged with requests for feathers.
Alfred Nomee, a noted elder, said the tribe had to navigate plenty of red tape.
“Our history, our stories, are told by those animals that were here long before we were,” he said. “These birds and animals were almost destroyed.”
Ernie Stensgar explained that hundreds of years ago, when young men or women would do something courageous or respectful for their community, they were given an eagle feather in honor of their actions. Stensgar compared that to military veterans today who return home with medals on their chest.
“For the rest of your lives I hope when you walk outside you’ll see these eagles up in the sky and remember our ancient ones,” Stensgar said to the youngsters. “We have a responsibility to these animal people.”
The Rose Creek Singers honored this event with a song. That was followed by taking groups of youngsters, as well as adults, to the aviary where they could see and get close to the eagles.
Bald eagles are more commonly seen in Idaho’s northern counties, particularly around the large lakes where they feed on kokanee through the winter. Most will return to northern Canada and Alaska in the summer. Golden eagles are more frequently from southern Idaho as they aren’t so dependent on fish. Both species will be housed at the tribe’s aviary.
Janie Veltkamp owns an aviary, Birds of Prey Northwest, across the lake east of the reservation. She will assist the tribe in their recovery efforts. She has spent the past 15 years or so rehabilitating raptors for release and using others for educational purposes if they’re too injured to be released.