January 19 brought a warm opportunity for area residents to see eagles during the 24th annual Kaw Lake Ultimate Eagle Watch, presented by the Kaw Lake Association and sponsored in part by Kaw Nation. 579 people attended the Eagle Watch. Even though hunters scared off some of the birds, people were able to catch sight of several eagles throughout the day.
Masses of people crowded into the Kaw Nation Community Center as Ryan VanZant of the Sutton Avian Research Center presented his eagle, BENSAR.
“BENSAR is a fine ambassador for his species,” VanZant said.
BENSAR (whose name stands for Bald Eagle Northern Sutton Avian Research) is 27 years old and weighs eight pounds. He once flew over the Grand Canyon.
BENSAR flew off his perch at one point, unsure of his place in the room. Also, he took a moment to comb his wings as VanZant answered questions.
“It’s an indication that he’s comfortable here,” VanZant said.
Among other presentations given that morning, Luther Pepper discussed the significance of eagles in Native American cultures. Pepper spoke about how eagle feathers are presented to people to wear with their dancing regalia.
“You can’t just get one of those feathers and stick it on your head and start dancing. There’s a process—a ceremony—you have to go through to be able to go to a person who has the right to put a feather on a person. In our tribe, it’s the eldest son that has that right,” he explained.
Pepper mentioned how fancy dancers used to wear eagle feathers in the bustle of their regalia.
He discussed how Native Americans believe that the eagle carries prayers up to the Great Father, Wakanda.
Jennifer Randel of the Potawatomi Tribe gave a presentation on the Citizen Potawatomi Aviary Project. She decided to start the aviary after attending the Kaw Lake Ultimate Eagle Watch in 2008. Upon hearing that anyone from a federally recognized tribe could start an aviary during a presentation about the Iowa Aviary, she decided to start one.
“Literally on the way home I called my grandmother, who is an elder in my tribe, and told her what happened to me. I told her, ‘I had an epiphany. I realized that this is what I’m supposed to do with my life,’” she said.
She went to various eagle watches and training sessions to learn about taking care of eagles. In 2009, she won a grant for the aviary. At the aviary, Randel and others nurture sick and injured eagles so that they may fly again.
Tribal members also pray with eagles.
Having an aviary enables the tribe to gather molted feathers. She mentioned that this eases the process of obtaining feathers for personal use.
“Sometimes you have a death in your family or a veteran coming home and you need that feather within a day or a week. We can offer that,” she said.
Rondi Large gave a presentation on WildCare, a wildlife refuge for injured or orphaned animals that are native to Oklahoma. WildCare treats 5,000 animals per year among 125 species. A few eagles are able to find a place at WildCare each year.