SOUTHERN UTAH – The founder of a wildlife rescue organization in southern Utah says it’s a common belief among several native cultures that an eagle feather can carry prayers to heaven, and he says this summer they have the opportunity to send 21,000 such prayers skyward in the form of three orphaned golden eagles recovering after being found in distress and close to death.
Martin Tyner is the founder and CEO of the Southwest Wildlife Foundation and among a small number of state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitators, and he said it’s a common belief among many native cultures to pray with an eagle feather because it allows the prayer to be carried to heaven.
So, when his organization releases a rehabilitated eagle back into the wild, Tyner said they will often seek out a person or organization in need of extra prayers to come participate.
“That’s 7,000 eagle feathers, so 7,000 prayers,” he said of golden eagles, which have about 7,000 feathers.
In the 36 years Tyner and his group have been saving wildlife in Utah, he says a wide variety of people have joined in an eagle release, including families with a loved one suffering from cancer, those who suffered symptoms due to being downwind of nuclear testing, troubled youth, women’s crisis centers and the National Guard—who joined with a Paiute spiritual leader several years ago to release an eagle and pray for active service members.
Tyner said another memorable release of an eagle was done as a way to memorialize the victims of the Crandall Canyon Mine collapse in 2007. He said that release was particularly emotional because some of the bodies were never recovered for more traditional burial or other funeral services.
“It was kind of a way to send prayers to heaven on the wings of an eagle for the victims of the disaster,” Tyner said.
Those who participate in the eagle releases are given a rare opportunity to interact with the raptors, which are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which was enacted in 1940.
Tyner said, “these aren’t puppies or kittens” but rather truly wild animals. He said they don’t socialize with the birds or even name them, because the birds cannot become acclimatized to humans or it jeopardizes their survival in the wild. By extension, the general public isn’t permitted to view or interact with the birds being rehabilitated at the center.
He said not every eagle release involves a person or group in need of extra prayers, but when it does he transports the eagle to the area and he removes the eagle from the vehicle and gets it ready for release. He and the person participating move near the edge of the cliff or bluff chosen for the release, and the others follow some distance behind.
Tyner will briefly place the eagle in the arms of the person participating after explaining the proper procedure and ensuring the safety and comfort of the bird. He said from there the process usually takes less than a minute.
“Give it a big shove, watch it soar,” Tyner said.
While Tyner said they aren’t able to accommodate every person or group who wishes to participate in an eagle release, those who are interested can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
The three golden eagles, which are roughly the same age, are not siblings and came from different areas. However, Tyner said they share the same story. He said June was an incredibly hot month and that the birds had become separated from their parents while learning to fly. He said the baby birds were found on the ground dehydrated, hungry and “within hours of death.”
He said the creatures they care for are wild animals and that by the time they are in a condition where a person is able to safely approach and pick them up, that usually means the animal is “close to death.”
The three golden eagles currently being rehabilitated at the center are just a few of the nearly 100 animals in 2015 that have been brought to the center—which is run entirely by volunteers and doesn’t receive any government funding. Tyner said they rely on the kindness of those who decide to support wildlife rehabilitation efforts in the form of donations and sales in their store of T-shirts and his book, “Healer of Angels.”
The group rehabilitates birds and also offers field excursions and educational events as well as participating in Boy Scouts of America Eagle Court of Honors. The events feature birds kept on a long-term basis that are exposed to humans, unlike the animals being rehabilitated.
For more about the Southwest Wildlife Foundation of Utah, visit their website.
The video below shows some highlights from the rescues done so far in 2015, including some “Awww” inspiring young birds. Warning, the video also has footage of predatory birds eating meat and small mammals that some may find upsetting.