At Patoka, new eagle has landed

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Dana Reckelhoff, interpretive naturalist at Patoka Reservoir, trained a new 11-month-old bald eagle at the park’s visitor center Wednesday. During training, the eagle becomes familiar with perching on Reckelhoff’s arm. The eagle was born in Alaska and recuperated in California from an injury suffered in a nest collapse. The bird is unable to fly. For more photos, click here.

Herald Staff Writer

This weekend, Patoka Reservoir will unveil its newest attraction: an 11-month old female bald eagle.

She replaces C52, the park’s last resident eagle, who died in 2009 while undergoing surgery in Louisville to remove a tumor. The new raptor, who arrived at the reservoir in December, will make her public debut from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the park’s visitor center.

“We knew that we had to have some way that we could introduce the public to her,” said Dana Reckelhoff,  the park’s interpretive naturalist. Saturday’s open house will “celebrate that we have an eagle back at Patoka.”

The new eagle doesn’t have a name. Her handlers just call her “eagle.” The last bird was given an identifying number because he was part of the state’s reintroduction program. But he was never re-released into the wild because of a wing defect. The new bird isn’t part of the reintroduction program, so she doesn’t have an identifying number.

“It’s part of our policy that wild animals will always be wild no matter how long they’re in captivity, so they’re not given any sort of pet name,” Reckelhoff said.

The new eagle was born in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Her right wing was crushed when her nest collapsed. Surgery was performed, but “unfortunately they were not able to fix the bones well enough for her to fly,” Reckelhoff said.

She underwent several months of physical therapy at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Moorpark, Calif., before being transferred to Patoka.

“She found a perfect home,” said Patty Perry, who oversaw the bird’s therapy in California. “We try to match the right bird to the right facility and the right needs, and that was just perfect. It was exactly what they needed and what they wanted.”

In December, the bird was flown to Indianapolis. She rode in the cargo hold of a Delta Airlines flight. Reckelhoff picked her up and brought her to the reservoir, where she lives in a wooden shelter near the park’s visitor center.

The eagle will be used for educational programming. Once the bird becomes acclimated to the public, Reckelhoff will take her to schools and events across the state to teach the importance of preserving wildlife. Hardy Lake near Scottsburg is the only other Indiana state park that has a resident bald eagle.   

The eagle’s head and tail feathers are brown but will turn white as she ages. Her wingspan would be more than 8 feet, but she isn’t able to fully spread her wings because of her injury. She weighs about 15 pounds.

The eagle is part of the park’s raptor program, which also includes an eastern screech owl. Both birds are rescue projects that suffer from permanent injuries and need special medical attention. Donations will be accepted Saturday for the animals’ care and well-being — “anything from vet bills to food to maintaining their shelters,” Reckelhoff said. State residents must pay a $5 fee at the park’s entrance, and out-of-state residents will be charged $7.  

The program lost its red-tailed hawk in January. Diagnostic tests showed the bird died of head trauma. Reckelhoff said the hawk was very skittish.

“Our best guess is the raccoons that get on top of their shelter probably scared the daylights out of her while she was sleeping. And it woke her up, startled her and she hit her head,” said Reckelhoff, who is searching for another hawk.

Saturday’s open house will include a prey and predator game for children and eagle-themed cupcakes. Members of the public can also have their picture taken with the eagle. For more information, call the park at 812-685-2447.

Contact Tony Raap at

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