- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

He is regal, this middle-aged bald eagle. His likeness graces U.S. coins as a symbol of freedom, though he likes his perch in his large cage at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, occasionally nabbing small birds who venture too close.
His name is Captain. And soon, he may lose his home of two decades because the zoo is planning a new eagles exhibit without him.
Senior zoo officials say the move is necessary because his current cage, about 45 by 80 feet, was built in the 1930s and isn't stable.
"The old exhibit is falling down," said John Seidensticker, senior curator at the National Zoo. "We have to deal with the issue of his safety. We'll take good care of him."
It's tragic, some zoo employees say privately. This is the only home he has ever known. They say they will miss him.
Zoo officials are beginning a project to create a new eagle exhibit. As part of the plan, the new exhibit will be smaller and the birds will be featured more prominently. But the new exhibit will include only eagles that are maimed, and Captain is whole. And because the zoo's only maimed eagle doesn't get along with Captain, he needs to find a new home.
"We won't just put him anywhere," Mr. Seidensticker said. "We are talking to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service now. Until then, we will keep him in the flying cage if necessary, moving the other smaller birds [so he wont eat them]."
Bird keepers say they understand the rationale behind the plan, but said they aren't happy about it.
"It is our duty to take care of this bird all his days," said one zoo employee privately. "He has been here forever. And with everything that has gone on in the country since September 11, it is [strange] to get rid of the nation's symbol."
Eagle experts say the move shouldn't hurt the bird if his new home is equal to his present home in size and amenities.
"Most seem to do fine if put in a similar or better place," said Al Cecere, president of the American Eagle Foundation, a Tennessee-based nonprofit that houses maimed eagles. "He'll probably do OK."
The bald eagle is one of 59 eagle species in the world and the only one that lives solely in the United States, according to the foundation. With a wingspan of up to 8 feet, the bald eagle can weigh up to 15 pounds. Bald eagles can live up to 40 years in the wild and longer in captivity. They are primarily fish eaters, though they eat small mammals and small birds.
Since 1782, the bald eagle has been the national emblem of the United States. Benjamin Franklin originally opposed the choice because he thought the eagle was of bad moral character.
Captain and another baby bald eagle were presented to President Reagan in 1982 by West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to commemorate the bicentennial of the American symbol. Both were given to the zoo, but the other eagle was moved to a new home soon after.
The new exhibit, funded with a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is expected to open in spring 2003.

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