The bald eagle is not only the national bird of the United States, but a national symbol of strength and freedom. Liberty, Jamestown's own bald eagle, has been gracing the lives of those in the community for 10 years.
"Many people come just to see Liberty, to visit and see how's she's doing," said Ruth Lundin, Jamestown Audubon Society president. "We have many people that have made a personal connection with her."
The Jamestown Audubon Society celebrated Liberty's 10th anniversary at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary with cake, conversation and a behind-the-scenes tour of Liberty's care facility. Those attending were also able to watch a never-before-shown video of Liberty's arrival at the sanctuary on June 1, 2002.
The Jamestown Audubon Society celebrated Liberty’s 10th anniversary at the Audubon Center and Sanctuary on Friday.
P-J photo by Hilary Scott
Dr. William Seleen, Jamestown veterinarian and licensed wildlife rehabilitator, proposed the idea of Audubon providing a home for an eagle that could not survive in the wild but could provide extensive educational opportunities to visitors. It took six years of study and work to determine and build the proper habitat and secure the necessary permits for Audubon to house an eagle. Lundin said there weren't any guidelines for building a structure for an eagle, so the crew started building the sanctuary hoping that they would be allowed to house an eagle.
The center had the intention of being the home to a bald eagle in Erie, but by the time they were ready, that eagle had already found a home.
Then they came across Liberty, who was found in Washington state with an infected cut on her left wing and had been waiting for a home for a year.
Successful conservation efforts have helped bald eagle populations rebound from near extinction in the 1960s, when the population reached a low of around 400 breeding pairs. Their population declined due to loss of habitat, shooting, trapping and the use of pesticides, especially DDT.
"(Bald eagles) are a wonderful example of how people can have a negative impact on a species but then become aware of it and, doing the research, can find ways to bring it back," said Lundin. "We now have bald eagles nesting in Chautauqua County, where as in 1976 there were only two known breeding pairs in all of New York state."
The bald eagle was removed from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife in the lower 48 States in 2007, when the number of breeding pairs grew to an estimated 9,789.
Liberty survives on the generosity and devotion of people in the community. The Randolph Fish Hatchery donates more than 300 pounds of fish every year and various people donate rodents, like mice and chipmunks, to feed Liberty. Her sanctuary and buildings were completely built and stocked by volunteers, and she is cared for 365 days a year by a group of dedicated volunteers, some of whom have been caring for her since her arrival.
Thom Armella, who heads the group of about nine volunteers, said taking care of birds is something he is passionate about, and caring for Liberty couldn't be done without the dedication of all the volunteers.
"I was lucky enough to be one of the ones picked (to care for Liberty). It's been 10 years and I haven't regretted a second of it. It's an honor and a responsibility to take care of her," he said.
People can help support Liberty by donating $20 for a personalized adoption certificate for Liberty with her biography and photograph. People can become Liberty's sponsor for a week for $150 and a month for $500. Sponsors will have their names featured on a large poster on her enclosure and will receive a thank you note, as well as being listed in Audubon's newsletter. People can also donate to Liberty's endowment fund for the creation of a flight enclosure to allow her more room to exercise.
The Audubon Center and Sanctuary is at 1600 Riverside Road, off Route 62 between Jamestown and Warren. The center's building, with a nature store and exhibits of live fish, reptiles and amphibians is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Its five miles of trails, bald eagle viewing, arboretum and gardens are open dawn to dusk every day.
For more information about Audubon and its programs, call 569-2345 or visit jamestownaudubon.org.