GILLETTE, Wyo. — Kateri, a popular golden eagle first introduced to Gillette after being hit by a semitrailer on Interstate 90, is no longer able to fly because of that 2013 impact.
Kateri is now part of an educational raptors show that travels around Wyoming. She was back in the Energy Capital of the Nation with Suli, a turkey vulture, a saw-whet owl named Remington and Isham, a red-tailed hawk.
The eagle was rescued and was nursed back to health over five months by Diane Morse of the former Northeast Wyoming Bird Rescue and Rehab. Kateri had fractured the humerus in her wing and suffered some muscle and tissue damage.
“Does anybody recognize her?” asked Melissa Hill.
“Some of you might. This is your hometown girl right here,” continued Hill, assistant curator for the Draper Museum Raptor Experience, which has become Kateri’s home.
And it could be her home for a long time, she said. Kateri is estimated to be about 12-15 years old, but could live to be 50.
Hill said she and the raptors have visited the Rockpile Museum in Gillette several times.
“Are golden eagles the biggest birds?” asked one young boy sitting in the front row. He had an up-close-and-personal view of the 14-pound, 2.5-foot-tall bird.
“They’re not,” Hill replied, but “they are one of the biggest flying birds in North America.”
Kateri and other golden eagles are smaller than the California condor, the largest bird in North America, and the ostrich, the world’s largest bird.
When a feather from the turkey vulture fell to the ground during the presentation, the handler explained that no one could have it because it’s against the law to take the feathers of protected birds, including bald eagles.
“The reason that we have that law is that about 150 years ago, the coolest thing in the world was to have fancy feathers in your hat,” Hill said. “And people would go out and kill birds just to take a couple of their feathers.”
As the presentation progressed, Kateri’s handler’s arm rested on a support as Hill explained that the bird’s collision with the truck left her with permanent damage and flightless.
“Unfortunately, not being able to fly means you can’t go back into the wild,” Hill said.
Since she would never be able to fly again, Morse decided Kateri could become an educational bird and transferred her to the Greater Yellowstone Raptor Experience through the Draper Museum of Natural History at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody.
Wyoming is home to many golden eagles because of its open spaces and sparse population, Hill said. Which is good for them, because they don’t like people very much.
“I don’t know if you guys have noticed, but Wyoming doesn’t have a lot of people,” Hill said. “It is the perfect combination.”
They also like Wyoming because of its thriving rabbit populations, Hill explained.
“Are there a lot of rabbits around here?” she asked her young audience.
The kids all answered in unison, “yeah.”
“Are the rabbits annoying around here?”
“Yes,” the children all answered again, nodding their heads.
The kids were a bit more hesitant when she asked, “Aren’t you glad we have more golden eagles around here to eat them?”
Most answered in the affirmative, but there were a few “noes” as well.
Among the young ones sitting in front of the rows of chairs was 9-year-old Isabelle Crosby, who said she wants to handle wildlife like Kateri when she grows up.
“I want to be a bird trainer because I love birds,” she said. “They’re one of my favorite animals. My favorite bird is the golden eagle because it’s so amazing.”
“We try to catch bird shows whenever we can,” said her mom, Emma.
They made sure to catch the “Flights of Wonder” show at Disney World when they were there, something that made Isabelle very happy.
Hill used only three words to describe Kateri’s personalty — dignified, mellow, forgiving.
She said that after all that has happened to her, Kateri has become “more mellow” since becoming part of the raptor show.
“I just trust her,” said Sally Disque, Kateri’s handler for the show. “She is amazing.”
Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com