Golden eagles have been a part of San Diego Zoo Global’s collection on and off since our early days in the 1920s. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Frequent Flyers bird show rehabilitates injured wild golden eagles brought to us by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We offer these birds a safe place to recover their flying skills before release back into the wild.
Currently, a golden eagle named Tonka soars down to the bird show audience at the Safari Park. A hiker in the Angeles National Forest found a young Tonka on the ground with an obvious injury that turned out to be a broken right hip. She imprinted on humans during her recovery at a wildlife rehabilitation center. Tonka spent some time with a falconer as well before coming to the Safari Park in 2004.
Tonka requires a large enclosure, special food items, lots of enrichment, and exercise. We are happy to provide this care for Tonka. In turn, she gives guests an incredible, up-close experience. Although golden eagles are known to be shy, Tonka is a confident bird. She has been on national television and even made an appearance at a Padres game during National Zoo Keeper Week. She is not bothered by large groups or modern marvels that may make other wild animals a bit uncomfortable.
The best way to see Tonka is to attend the Safari Park’s animal encounters, where she is a star on the Ambassador Stage. At times, we display her exercise routine (flights) near the Park’s Okavango Outpost. She is a beautiful ambassador for her species.
In past years, ranchers killed thousands of golden eagles, thinking the birds preyed on young sheep and goats. Yet studies showed there was no evidence that the eagles attacked sheep or other livestock. Instead, it was found that rabbits were the eagles' main food source. In 1962, golden eagles became a federally protected species.
Unfortunately, many golden eagles are still killed by ranchers or others for their feathers. And their propensity to seek out strong winds can bring the birds into proximity with wind farms. Dozens of eagles are killed each year when they land on exposed power lines or attempt to fly through wind farms. Others are caught in traps set for other animals or are poisoned by tainted bait or lead shot buried in their prey. But the main reason for their decline in numbers is loss of habitat.
San Diego Zoo Global works with energy companies to track golden eagles in Southern California and Baja California, Mexico. Several golden eagles wear miniaturized GPS transmitters so their movement patterns can be monitored remotely. The data from the eagles helps us track their movement patterns and habitat use across seasons. This information can help plan the best locations for wind farms. We hope this predictive management tool can minimize the risk of harm to the birds and their habitats.
You can help us bring eagle species back from the brink by supporting the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy. Together we can save and protect wildlife around the globe.