Star eagle shines, educates in Lake Shelbyville program

Eagles reportedly can be poisoned by lead picked up while scavenging animals that were shot or from a fishing sinker.

SHELBYVILLE, Ill. — “Kenny” the bald eagle got to show off and help teach some lessons.

Described as the “star eagle” in the education program at the rehabilitation center where he lives, Kenny certainly drew interest from a crowd at the Lake Shelbyville visitors center last month.

It was part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ fifth annual “Eagle Day” and Kenny’s audience heard that there are specific rules in place that allow him to be the star he is.

“Eagles have their own law,” explained Jacques Nuzzo, program director with the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, where Kenny lives.

Nuzzo said the center doesn’t actually own any of its eagles and they’re technically on “indefinite loan.” And they can only be shown for educational purposes, he added.

“There are very strict rules to show him,” Nuzzo said.

Kenny spent the presentation perched on the arm of Jane Seitz, the raptor center’s executive director. But there were a few times he showed off his 6-foot wingspan and took a short flight to the limits of his leash.

Nuzzo used that to note one of the physical challenges of caring for birds of prey. He said Kenny’s beak and talons aren’t the only parts of him to watch out for.

“They will punch you with their wings,” he said. “It hurts.”

He also explained that the center’s birds’ talons don’t get the natural wear they would in the wild, so that job goes to the centers’ workers.

“If you want to see a fun day ….” he joked.

Nuzzo also said there’s usually “a lot of cussing” that goes along with treating a bird like Kenny, but still described him as “very well behaved.”

The raptor center does bird rehabilitation but that’s not the focus of its public presentations, Nuzzo also said. It’s better to help people learn about the birds and how to identify them, he explained.

“They’re such magnificent creatures,” he said. “There’s more education value in that.”

He added that the center averages about 250 birds per year and has helped create an “unbelievable data set” with research efforts.

The annual “Eagle Day” draws a good crowd and gives people a chance to get outdoors, said Ashley Florey, natural resource specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers.

And, Florey added, Lake Shelbyville is a good place to see bald eagles on a regular basis.

“Every morning, we’re guaranteed to see some of them,” she said.

The eagles’ population at the lake has “definitely grown,” she also said. There were no eagle nests sighted there 10 years ago but now there are at least three, she said.

“If somebody wanted to view them, this is the place to be,” Florey said.

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