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Taking Flight

Thursday, February 25, 2016

This Golden Eagle is one of several birds at the Grey Snow Eagle House used for educational outreach. Outreach education presentations are available for schools, meetings or other events for teaching wildlife conservation. Photo by Ashton Lierle.

Experience is key when it comes to flying. When a bird learns to fly, it experiences many failed attempts before being successful.

These flying experiences are facilitated in Perkins, Okla., at the Grey Snow Eagle House, which is owned and operated by the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

“In 2006, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma opened the Grey Snow Eagle House to provide a home and rehabilitation center for injured birds,” said Megan Judkins, aviary assistant manager at the Grey Snow Eagle House.

Since the development of the facility, the Iowa Tribe has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department to provide rehabilitation services, homes to non-releasable birds, education and research, Judkins said. The Eagle House now serves as a home to approximately 45 bald and golden eagles.

According to the Iowa Tribe, most of the eagles are brought to the facility because they are injured and unable to survive in the wild. The eagles at the facility come from across Oklahoma as well as from Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin.

“Most of the eagles at our facility have either been hit by a car, gunshot or electrocuted,” Judkins said.

According to the Iowa Tribe, they would rather see the birds live in the wild, but when they are not able to be released, the Eagle House strives to provide them with the highest standard of living.

An intensive care unit at the facility allows injured birds to be cared for as well as possible, Judkins said.

“The ICU provides a quiet and peaceful place for the birds while they are healing,” Judkins said. “It also provides a place for our staff to carefully monitor the injured birds.”

When an eagle is almost ready to be returned to the wild, the staff moves it to the rehabilitation flight cage to assess its flight strength and patterns, Judkins said. The eagle is returned to the wild when it can hunt effectively, she added.

While the Grey Snow Eagle House is changing the lives of injured eagles, it also offers opportunities to Oklahoma State University students in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

The facility has six volunteers and 10 employees. Judkins said several student volunteers and employees are studying or have studied in CASNR.

Judkins said the students involved at the Eagle House come from all different majors within OSU and CASNR.

“Working at a facility like this can be beneficial to students from all different majors,” Judkins said. “Vet students, leadership majors, students wanting to go into law enforcement, you name it, and there is something for everyone to learn here.”

Mallory Nailon cleans one of the eight bird cages at the Grey Snow Eagle House. Cleaning the cages every day provides a sanitary and healthy environment for the birds. Photo by Ashton Lierle.

Mallory Nailon, an animal science senior from Baytown, Texas, started volunteering in 2012 after hearing about the Grey Snow Eagle House at an OSU event to showcase volunteer opportunities.

“Being an animal science major, I thought volunteering at the Eagle House would be a great experience and résumé builder,” Nailon said.

Sue Fairbanks, assistant professor in the OSU Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, said hands-on experience is incredibly important.

“For students to be competitive for jobs after they graduate, they need experience,” Fairbanks said. “The Grey Snow Eagle House is a great place for students to gain that experience.”

Keaton Garland, a wildlife ecology and management senior from Glenpool, Okla., said she learned about the Grey Snow Eagle House when Judkins spoke in one of her classes.

“Last summer, I stayed in Stillwater and was needing something to do that could help me gain experience with animals, so I started volunteering,” Garland said. “In August, I was asked to start working at the facility as an employee.”

For most of the students who work at the Grey Snow Eagle House, gaining experience is the most important thing for them, Judkins said. They can learn a variety of things at the facility they may not ever experience in a classroom, she added.

“The volunteers start by shadowing an employee to learn the ins and outs of daily operations,” Judkins said. “The volunteers eventually start doing tasks on their own when the employees feel they have the experience necessary to work alone.”

Some of the tasks employees and volunteers complete on a daily basis are cleaning the birdcages, preparing food for the birds, feeding the birds, and observing rehabilitation practices.

The networking the students gain by working at the Grey Snow House is just as beneficial to them as the hands-on experience, Fairbanks said.

“By networking with people in this field of work, students can decide exactly what career field they want to pursue,” Fairbanks said. “The people the students meet could also lead to a potential job or internship opportunity.”

Nailon said working at the eagle house is preparing her to begin her doctor of veterinary medicine degree. She said she plans to become a small-animal veterinarian and also work in wildlife rehabilitation.

“I would love the opportunity to be able to help animals that have been affected by oil spills or other things that have caused them to need rehabilitation,” Nailon said. “Working at the Grey Snow Eagle house has reinforced my career goals and driven me to want to help animals even more.”

Garland said she had no idea what she wanted to do as a career until she started working at the Grey Snow Eagle House.

“I know now I definitely want to pursue a career in animal rehabilitation,” Garland said. “After I graduate, I am going to continue working at the Grey Snow Eagle House as a full-time employee.”

For the students working at the Grey Snow Eagle House, every hour of experience they get is going to be beneficial for them, Judkins said. This facility is not only beneficial for the eagles but also for the volunteers and staff.

The Grey Snow Eagle House can be credited for students being able to reach new heights.

To learn more about the Grey Snow Eagle House and volunteer opportunities, visit

Story by Ashton Lierle

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