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Remembering Aquila, the Golden Eagle

October 16, 2014

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Aquila lived 32 years at the California Raptor Center and greatly enjoyed playing in a water bath. (Photo: Caitlin Morrow)

Article courtesy of Julia Cotton, CRC volunteer

We are saddened to announce that Golden Eagle Aquila, our oldest resident and a perennial favorite of visitors, died suddenly on Wednesday, October 8th, from complications related to her advancing age. 

Aquila arrived at the California Raptor Center (CRC) in June 1982. Brought in from Redding, CA, she had a serious gunshot wound to her left wing. Because the damage was so severe, her wing required complete amputation, a major surgery that leads, in many birds, to impaired balance and decreased mobility. Aquila, however, recovered exceptionally well and was able to move deftly around her exhibit, using a series of custom platforms.

Shortly after she recovered, Aquila was tamed to the glove by Bret Stedman, CRC's Operations Manager, and she remained a taming bird until 1989. In the rest of her lengthy tenure at the CRC, she became the iconic “greeter” in the display at the front entrance. Unusually vocal, Aquila's distinct Golden Eagle call welcomed many visitors as they first stepped onto the grounds. As both a taming bird and a display bird, she was a wonderful ambassador for her species. She also played the role of foster mother to an orphaned Golden eaglet, raising it as if it were her own chick. Once grown, that young eagle was successfully released into the wild.

We never knew Aquila's exact age because she came to the CRC bearing adult plumage, which Golden Eagles achieve at four to five years. Based on the duration of her stay at the CRC as well as some observations about her behavior, we can estimate that she was at least 37 years old and likely over 40 at the time of her death, a venerable age for her species (Golden Eagles have been documented reaching 30 years or more in the wild and around 50 in captivity). 

Stedman recalls that beyond Aquila's longevity and impressive physical appearance, she was outstanding because of her strong, multifaceted, charismatic personality. 

"She was vocal and interactive with people most of the time but could be quiet and reserved as well. Because of her great strength and sometimes unpredictable nature she was a challenging and exciting bird to handle which made it all the more fun for me and many others," he said. "Aquila was a very unique and wonderful bird...difficult to ignore, impossible to forget and easy to love."

Aquila will be greatly missed by the CRC and UC Davis veterinary hospital staff, volunteers, and visitors alike. We invite our visitors to share their memories, artwork, and photographs of Aquila. If you have photos you'd like to send in, please address them to: Aquila Memorial, California Raptor Center, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616. Or email to Trina Wood at

Memories of Aquila:

I was a volunteer and student staff member at the California Raptor Center during my years in college. I went on to intern for several AZA zoos and now work full time as a bird keeper at the Dallas Zoo, but she remains the best, most lovable eagle I've ever worked with. I remember her vocals greeting me whenever I opened the front gate on the weekends, and how much she loved splashing around her tub under a hose shower!

Caitlin Morrow