Taronga’s Wedge-tailed Eagle ‘Gina’ is back in her cozy aviary after an extended experimental flight.
For the past few days my team and I have been attempting to recover our female Wedge-tailed Eagle ‘Gina’ after she miscalculated during flight in an off-site training session.
In preparing our future stars for the Bird Show we regularly take them to parks around Mosman for training sessions - this allows the birds opportunity for initial free-flight and is a great experience for both us and our birds.
Gina was originally found in Dubbo with a form of muscular myopathy. This has affected her ability to fly and means that she would not survive in the wild. Therefore it is vital for us to take her for these free-flight training sessions to build her strength and her confidence. We are a very specially trained team with planned strategies in the event our animals require this additional help.
Earlier in the week we were flying Gina down at Clifton Gardens. Gina has demonstrated much skill in level flight, so our current focus is having her gain confidence descending from gradually increasing elevations. Gina had undertaken this flight twice before, but in this instance misjudged her descent and so kicked up gaining more height. Gina safety landed in a tree nearby, the only issue was this was at a much greater height!
In these situations our team is not worried, we simply wait until Gina gains confidence and chooses to fly down. This can be a matter of minutes, or in some instances, hours - however in this very rare instance it was days.
This is actually a great opportunity to meet members of the community and explain our role to them, and the training our birds undertake. A very common question is “how will we capture them again?”
My answer is we don’t capture them, as that is not our aim. Our aim is to simply be there to provide support as Gina needs it and intervene if she encounters trouble. Although you may be thinking this situation to be very unfortunate, birds making mistakes like this are valuable learning experiences. By assisting Gina through the learning process we can allow her to develop skills that will see her better succeed next time.
By evening Gina had not descended but this wasn’t something to worry about. When it gets dark our birds roost and we return the next morning before dawn to continue providing our support, and get ready to take the birds home when they return to us. This confidence I have comes from both the work we do with our birds, as well as the relationship it creates between us.
On the second day wind speeds were much stronger than the day before and they carried Gina well into the heart of Eastern Sydney. I encountered hundreds of people as I navigated the area, following Gina by means of a radio transmitter she wears when free-flying. Think of it as the ultimate game of hide-and-seek, except Gina isn’t trying to hide, but rather is subject to the winds she is riding.
Much of the recovery operation involves waiting below a tree, but sometimes it requires what must appear to be frantic running as we struggle to keep up with a bird that can fly much faster than we can run. It makes for an eventful day!
This morning though, we recovered Gina at a unit complex in Waverley. She had awkwardly landed in a palm tree. I assisted Gina out by offering my glove and making sure she was ok, which she was, save for a scratch or two on her right foot.
These situations are definitely memorable, especially for the community members that get involved. It is common for Gina to be followed by a posse of native birds as she flies. This can either look extremely impressive, or a tad harrowing (especially if you are familiar with Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’). These birds are just being good parents; coming into breeding season they want to drive any predators out of the area, and hence the aerial display.
Another highlight was that, hilariously, Gina was actually in the media last week as we highlighted her free-flight training. One observer noticed and said “Is that the bird from the paper? She’s famous!”
I’d like to thank all those people that offered help, either by providing information or the much-needed water two people gave us.
I feel very privileged to work at a place like Taronga that can give Gina a home and still provide her with opportunities to experience the wider world around her. Gina will continue with her training and hopefully become a familiar sight in our Bird Show in the months to come.
By Bird Show Keeper, Brendan Host