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SACRED WINGS Iowa Tribe Provides Safe Haven for Wounded Eagles By Clay Billman

or the United States of America, the eagle is the symbol of our freedom. In Native Ameri- can culture, it is a sacred creature. No one knows this better than Victor Roubi- doux, a member of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. The lifelong Perkins resident and Central Rural Electric Co-op member serves as wildlife manager of the tribe’s Grey Snow Eagle House (Bah Kho-je Xla Chi), located 2.5 miles south of the Cimarron River off Highway 177. Designed to rehabilitate in- jured birds and be a home to non-releasable ones, the non-profi t aviary is currently home to 28 bald and eight golden eagles.


“All the ones we have today are permanent resi- dents,” Roubidoux says. “They can’t be released due to the severity of their injuries. We have birds that have amputated wings, birds that are blind in one eye, wings that have been broken and healed improperly before we got them so they can’t fl y. A majority of them are wing injuries: fl ying into fences, guyline wires, vehicles …” And guns.

“We’ve got four permanent residents that were shot. We were able to release two birds that were gunshot, but the ones we can’t release just stay here. We’ll go out of state to pick up birds that have already gone through the rehab process and are termed non-releasable. If we don’t pick them up, they’ll put them to sleep.”

Roubidoux says the tribe takes in eagles from all parts of the country.

The sanctuary receives eagles with gunshot wounds from Oklahoma, Nebraska and Utah. Roubidoux explained the golden eagles love to build their nests on the side of cliffs, like out in western Nebraska. Mountain goats, prairie dogs, and ground squirrels are their main diet. Balds will be near lakes and rivers. They build their nests in trees near their hunting grounds. Their diet is mainly fi sh. A number of the aviary’s bald eagles come from Oklahoma, including the inspiration for the facility.

Perkins “His name is

Whirlwind,” Roubidoux says, pointing to a close-up picture of a bald eagle on the offi ce wall. “He’s the one that kind of started this whole thing.”

In the winter of 2000, the mature bald eagle had been found near Poteau with a broken wing. “It came out in the Tulsa paper that this bird was being taken to the Zuni Tribe in New Mexico. They were the fi rst ones to start an aviary. Their tribal liaison said this would be a good project for some tribe in Oklahoma to do. I read that and thought, ‘We could do that.’ We have our bison. We have our wetlands. We’re very big on taking care of the environment. We believe we’re stewards of the land, and we should take better care of it, so I thought this is something our tribe could really do.” At Roubidoux’s urging, the Iowa Tribe pursued the project. At that time, Roubidoux was the trea- surer of the tribe. He made a trip to D.C. in 2003 and talked to as many congressmen and senators he could, but there were no funds.

In 2004, the tribe applied for a newly established

federal grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser- vice. The fi rst submission was not successful, but the second grant application was approved. The tribe would have their eagle house, but they needed someone to run it.

After a conversation with his wife, Roubidoux accepted to take on the call. That was when the education process started. Federal regulations required Roubi- doux to get 100 hours of migratory bird training. He went to The Birds of Prey Foundation in Denver to receive the appropriate training. “I didn’t have any idea I was going to do

it. I just realized it was something that the tribe needed to do. I was real nervous at the start, but it’s pretty simple,” Roubidoux says. “The birds are the best teachers. You watch the birds, and they’ll let you know when you’ve got to check them out, catch them and examine them or get them to the vet. The rest of the time you clean their house and make sure they’ve got plenty to eat.” The eagle house opened in 2006 with one main

fl ight area and a permit that allowed the tribe to house a maximum of four birds. Roubidoux says the demand was far greater. In fact, at one point he turned down 37 eagles. He asked the committee to add more room.

“The growth has happened so fast. It’s all due to the fact that there are more injured eagles out there that need to be taken care of,” he adds. “We’re talking to other tribes and trying to help them get started and do the same thing.”

They’re working with the Navajo Zoo, which has already started a facility and with the Citizen Band Potawatomi in Shawnee, Okla. who are currently building one.

“We talked to various tribes up in the northwest and the northeast, because a large population of eagles lives up there. I tell them that we don’t mind coming and getting their birds, but they could do the same thing we’re doing up there.” Over the past fi ve years, the Grey Snow Eagle House has expanded to include separate cages for bald and golden eagles, along with additional fl ight facilities and an ICU. Current plans call for more natural landscaping in the cages.

Continued on page 22

The Grey Snow Eagle House near Perkins, Okla. is the home of 28

Photos by Clay Billman bald and eight golden eagles. OCTOBER 2011 21

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