Kno and his mom Kyla in the background.
A juvenile bald eagle, hatched at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Eagle Aviary March 21, was released Sept. 20. The release marks
the second time that CPN; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; the Raptor
View Research Institute in Missoula, Montana; and Sia, the Comanche
Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative partnered to release and
track a juvenile bald eagle. However, the occasion marks the first
time that an eagle was hatched at and released from a tribal facility.
Although it's unusual for birds in captivity to show interest
in nest building, Kyla and Charlie began to do so shortly after
they were introduced to each other. Kyla laid her first eggs in
2015 but broke them due to her inexperience. In 2016 she laid again,
but the eggs were not fertile.
"Kyla initially showed some interest in nest building and started
pulling twigs and branches and things off the greenery in the enclosure,"
said Aviary staff member Bree Dunham. "We provided nest material
for them, and she went through the process, but didn't really have
a good idea what she was doing."
Charlie was an adult when Kyla came to the aviary, so choosing
a new partner was also unusual for him. However, he showed interest
in Kyla from the moment she entered the enclosure.
"It's really important for us to give them the quality of life
in captivity," said Aviary Manager Jennifer Randell. "Charlie was
one of our original first eagles. When we introduced Kyla a few
months later, it was love at first sight. Charlie began following
her around watching her bathe, watching her eat. And she's about
three times his body weight. So we didn't really know if it is going
to work out or not because Kyla didn't really understand since she
was a juvenile when we first received her."
Working through challenges
The aviary has had a relationship with U.S. Fish and Wildlife
since its inception, operating under a Native Religious Use Permit.
Less than a dozen of these permits are issued in the United States,
and CPN is the only facility that has released a juvenile bald eagle
hatched at its facility and the first to do so with telemetry to
monitor the eagle. Each time the staff encounters something new,
a consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife is required. Because
each tribe operates differently than other facilities, and eagles
and other animals have different meanings to each tribe, the process
for the consultation is often lengthy.
"U.S. Fish and Wildlife is very supportive," said Dunham. "We
operate under the Native Religious Use Permit. When they designed
that permit, they had really good intentions, but I don't think
they understood the scope of what they were talking about. Each
tribe is so different. What we believe is culturally important to
us may not be the same for another tribe, so all tribes wouldn't
necessarily want to release an eagle."
The aviary opened June 2012 and was partially funded with a
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tribal Wildlife Incentive Grant.
The facility now houses 14 eagles and continues to advance its education
and outreach through aviary programs.
"This responsibility that the tribe has taken on is multigenerational,"
CPN Tribal Chairman John "Rocky" Barrett told the Hownikan. "We
plan to meet that responsibility by passing legislation that ensures
this facility remains adequately funded and staffed. Our tribal
legislation needs to detail how the program is funded and what training
is required of the employees. This is our governmental responsibility,
not the federal government. We are sovereigns and we have a responsibility
as sovereigns to behave as a sovereign government. We must develop
legislation that prescribes how this is done since we were the pioneers
in developing these methods."
Building on success
Kyla and Charlie had a little practice being parents before
this eaglet we would come to know as Mko Kno hatched. After unsuccessful
attempts at hatching eggs of their own, aviary staff partnered with
Sia: The Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative to make
them parents. It was the first time on record that bald eagles have
raised a tawny eagle chick.
"Luckily, here in the state of Oklahoma, we have three Native
American aviaries and every aviary is unique in what its focus is,"
said Randell. "The focus of Sia is captive propagation, so they
have their permit to let their eagles breed and they have exotic
eagles. We were able to get a foster chick from them after Kyla
and Charlie were unsuccessful in having an eagle of their own."
The tribe marked another first when it became the first Native
American tribe to use a GPS device to track a rehabilitated eagle.
Wadasé Zhabwé, one of the first eight eagles to call
CPN Eagle Aviary home, was released in April 2013. Rob Domenech
from the Raptor View Research Institute equipped the eagle with
a GPS device and her travel and hunting progress has been monitored
for more than four years. Wadasé regularly returns to the
aviary and has flown several thousand miles since her release.
Domenech also helped equip Mko Kno with a similar device. Due
to the risk involved, the aviary staff consulted Domenech because
of his experience in putting telemetry devices on eagles in the
"Every time you put a transmitter on a young eagle there's a
70 percent mortality rate," Domenech said. "That first year of life
for any young eagle is difficult."
Domenech said the tracking and growth of Wadasé has been
remarkable, calling it an amazing success story.
Bill Voelker from Comanche Nation Sia also helped with the release.
Voelker began operating Sia in the 1970s under a special use permit,
before there was a tribal aviary permit. The Sia facility is now
home to more than 140 eagles and its staff specializes in propagation
and education. Aviary staff trained at the Comanche facility before
helping open the CPN aviary.
"The tribal aviary permit allows each tribal entity to do their
own thing and establish themselves in a unique way," Voelker said.
"We've trained many people and have established a foundation for
a cultural protocol that we're greatly honored to be able to share
with people like Jennifer and Bree, but the Citizen Potawatomi Nation
has established its own position."
Kno's telemetry bag.
Longest flight of its life
A telemetry device similar to what was used for Wadasé
was placed on Mko Kno before he was returned to the enclosure where
he'd spent his entire life. The enclosure was modified so the young
eagle could come and go as he pleased, a process called hacking,
which is more natural. Although staff thought he might take quite
some time to get accustomed to his new surroundings, he took off
Memorial donations in honor of tribal member Stan Brown, who
requested that, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations be made to
the aviary in his name, helped to fund the telemetry device.
"Once we set the bird on the ground, we expected it to walk
about and accustom itself to the equipment," Chairman Barrett added.
"Instead, the moment he was put back in the enclosure he flew off
without even taking a step. He flew straight out the hole at the
end of the enclosure and off into the trees and within a matter
of seconds took longer flights than it had taken in its entire life
without any hesitation."
After Wadasé was released, it took her approximately
23 days to return to the aviary. Within three weeks of his release,
Mko Kno had already flown as far north as Nebraska. The aviary staff
can retrieve telemetry data every three days and noticed he's been
in great habitats near rivers and large bodies of water, a hopeful
sign that the young eagle is finding food for itself.
Kno's wingspan measured more than 6 feet before he was released.
At the time of his release, Mko Kno weighed about seven pounds
and had a wingspan of almost 6 1/2 feet.
"Males were much smaller, so a normal male wingspan is about
six feet, making him substantially bigger than usual," Jennifer
Randell said. "We think that's good because it gives him a better
opportunity out there in the wild. Before his release, we measured
the wings and weight to make sure he's healthy and of the right
weight to fly. We also checked his feet and beak, so we knew we're
not releasing him with any sort of struggles or handicaps."
For aviary staff, the release of this eagle signifies healing
for Kyla and Charlie and the Potawatomi people. Charlie, whose Potawatomi
name is Zagéndem-nené (Nervous Man), and Kyla, whose
Potawatomi name is Kche-Gizhek (Big Sky) both had more serious injuries
and were kept in a smaller enclosure with eagles who had less ability
to fly. When U.S. Fish and Wildlife confiscated Kyla from an individual
with no permit, she had been held in a large kennel for an extended
period. She wore the feathers off a portion of her wings and had
calluses from turning around in the kennel. Jennifer and Bree trained
with Charlie at the Comanche aviary and chose to relocate Charlie
to the aviary when it opened. Charlie had injuries to his wing consistent
with being struck by an automobile.
"Kyla has come full circle," Breed Dunham said. "To have an
injured bird, who didn't even really understand how to eat whole
food, lay an egg and raise her own chick, it has been that healing
process for her."
The eagle release also has spiritual meaning for Citizen Potawatomi.
The Potawatomi Eagle Story explains that Eagle saw that the Potawatomi
were still living in the right way and reported that back to the
Creator, saving them. As such, many Potawatomi believe that Eagle
helps deliver our prayers to the Creator.
"The eagle delivers a message to the creator that people on
this earth are still doing the right thing, so the sun comes up
and the earth lives another day," Chairman Barrett explained. "Releasing
this eagle goes a long way toward fulfilling that."
The young eagle was named to reflect this healing and represent
the time of year it was hatched. Mko, which means bear in Potawatomi,
was chosen because the eagle was hatched during the bear moon. The
bear clan was also known as the healing clan for the Potawatomi.
"It really means a lot for Kyla, his mother," Jennifer Randell
added. "I think he was healing for her and she came from a really
bad place. To see her come from not even knowing she was an eagle
to having a young eagle that we can let go in the wild is fantastic.
That's coming full circle for her."
frequently for updates about Mko Kno, Wadasé, and the other
eagles at the aviary.