For many of us, getting around is taken for granted. We start crawling, and then eventually start walking. Our level of skill increases with both time and experience, and even then some of us are more graceful than others.
It's not a stretch then to apply this same line of thinking to birds. Whilst in general birds have the ability to fly, flying well is not innate and requires practice. Our Wedge-tailed Eagle Gina is currently getting that practice.
Gina was transferred to Taronga from our sister zoo Taronga Western Plains late last year. Prior to arriving at the Bird Show, efforts were made to rehabilitate and release Gina back into the wild.
We cannot confidently say what age she is, but due to her dark plumage we guess she is a mature female. As Wedge-tails age, their feathers darken. Younger birds may be identified by golden highlights throughout their plumage.
Because of this presumed age, Gina would likely have had experience and success hunting in the wild, and therefore be a reasonable candidate for release. This isn't always the best option for younger birds, as learning to hunt is also a vital skill. Failure to gain this experience usually has dire consequences.
Attempts were made to release Gina, but she never flew very far, on one instance only covering 100-metres before needing to go to ground. Upon reassessment she appeared to have a form of muscular myopathy, or "weak muscles".
It was because of this reason that Gina became part of the Bird Show family. Gina requires constant care and controlled opportunities to build muscle for free-flight.
This isn't the first time we have had a flight-compromised Wedge-tail trained for our show.
With daily training we are able to provide Gina with situations that gently push her to develop a skill-set that would allow her to fly and succeed in our Bird Show environment.
Small flights between trainers, followed by gradual increases in distance, elevation, and wind strength, are allowing Gina to become more and more competent.
Gina is a long way off being introduced to shows, but is making small gains every day. Regardless of how much training we do with Gina though she will never be skilled enough to return successfully back into the wild, as wonderful as that would be.
Until Gina makes her show debut, our team will continue to work with Gina and give her those learning opportunities.
It is a truly rewarding feeling to see a compromised bird going from strength to strength and being given a second chance. We feel lucky to work with Gina.
- Bird Show Keeper, Brendan Host