Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park is well known for its delicious food, entertaining shows, and exhilarating roller coasters. It also has a unique partnership with the American Eagle Foundation and a special bald eagle breeding pair that resides in the park.
Both Dollywood and the American Eagle Foundation celebrate their 30th anniversaries this year. Coincidentally, these disabled bald eagle parents, named Independence and Franklin, are raising their 30th eaglet this year.
This bald eagle pair has become world famous due to the high definition video cams that stream their nesting activities 24-7 to thousands of viewers around the globe. The stream can be viewed at www.eagles.org/Cams/DollywoodNest.html and currently is featured by the United States Postal Service on their new “Watch Us Deliver” dashboard (www.watchusdeliver.com).
Independence and Franklin are permanently disabled, non-releasable bald eagles that were both shot in their left wings by poachers in Alaska. They were transferred to the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. to be forever cared for. In April 2000, they chose each other as mates in captivity and were given their own nesting space inside Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, a naturally landscaped, outdoor aviary located next to the Wings of America show stage at Dollywood. Two-dozen other bald eagles reside in Eagle Mountain Sanctuary as well. The American Eagle Foundation in cooperation with Dollywood operates the aviary and show.
Since 2002, this pair has successfully raised 29 eaglets released into the wild to help repopulate bald eagles in the United States. This year, the three eggs laid by Independence (the female of the eagle pair) did not hatch (one was accidently broken by a stick and two were infertile), which can be a natural occurrence even in the wild.
However, Independence and Franklin still were able to be parents this nesting season. The pair was given an eaglet that hatched in an incubator on May 6 from an egg produced by another bald eagle breeding pair at the American Eagle Foundation. The egg was found on the ground in Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, and despite the American Eagle Foundation’s concern that the egg might have missed adequate incubation from its parents; it still was transferred to an incubator. It hatched 36 days later. Independence and Franklin immediately accepted this eaglet as their own and exhibit dedicated bald eagle parenting skills.
When it reaches six weeks of age, the eaglet will be transferred to the American Eagle Foundation’s hacking tower overlooking Douglas Lake in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. A hacking tower is an artificial nesting tower used to naturally raise and fledge captive-hatched and rehabilitated young eagles. At 13 weeks of age, the eaglet will be set free from this man-made nest and begin its journey in the wild.
The American Eagle Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to care for, restore and protect the USA’ s living symbol of freedom, the Bald Eagle, and other birds of prey.
After bald eagles become sexually mature (around four to five years of age) and choose their life-long mates, they tend to return to the general area where one of the pair first learned to fly. This past year, the American Eagle Foundation discovered the identity of a local bald eagle that has nested in the Pigeon Forge, Tenn. area. The eagle and her mate produced seven young during the past several years. Powerful cameras allowed the American Eagle Foundation to read the ID number on the eagle’s metal leg band, and it was revealed to be a female eagle that was hatched and raised by Independence and Franklin in 2008. After fledging into the wild from the hacking tower on Douglas Lake, this female eagle decided to return to the Pigeon Forge area four years later with her mate to build their first nest. The American Eagle Foundation has named her Lady Independence, in honor of her mother.
The American Eagle Foundation has released 135 eaglets into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains since 1992, and nearly 400 have been released statewide since 1980.