On a misty fall morning at Northwest Trek, Cheveyo cocks her white feathered head and eyes a pile of meat. Gold feet spread wide for balance, she stretches one glorious wing. On her other shoulder is a small feathered nub. Then she hops down and grabs the food in swift, fierce bites.
One of four rescued bald eagles to find homes in the new Eagle Passage exhibit, Cheveyo is the only one who simply cannot fly. But as her Hopi name describes, she’s still very much a spirit warrior.
Injured, survived, rescued
“Cheveyo was rescued in New York state with a gunshot wound to her left wing, which then had to be amputated at a wildlife health center,” explains Marc Heinzman, animal curator. “She couldn’t have survived in the wild.”
After being cared for at another zoo, Cheveyo came to Northwest Trek this fall, moving into Eagle Passage once she’d had a thorough exam and settled in. Even before she arrived, staff were working hard to specially adapt her new home to her different abilities.
“Her ability to navigate her space is limited,” says keeper Wendi Mello, who cares for Cheveyo daily. “So we wanted to make it possible for her to get where she wants to be – up high – but still safe.”
A home built for her needs
Mello worked with horticulturalist Jake Pool to design and build a section of Eagle Passage specially for Cheveyo. On the back side of the walk-through tunnel are log ramps leading to three perch “trees” – old snags set deep into the ground – which have thick branches deliberately bolted into the trunk at various heights up to five feet. Cheveyo uses her feet more than other eagles for mobility and balance, so to protect them the perches are covered with grippy Astroturf that drains well.
Lush vegetation gives her extra screening if she needs it, although she’s very comfortable with both people and other birds. Keepers also give all the eagles plenty of enrichment: rope, packing paper and whole prey food to rip, shred and tear, exactly as they would in the wild.
And Cheveyo has shown an unusual preference for having food tossed nearby.
“She loves the action, and will hop down and play with it,” says Mello.
Most of all, it’s clear that Cheveyo is a warrior, through and through.
“When I handle her for her physical exams, I can feel that inside her,” Mello says. “Her leg muscles are so strong, her body condition is robust, and she’s very feisty. She has a true warrior spirit.”
And by connecting with guests close-up, Cheveyo will also help turn around the tragic wound that changed her life.
“It’s sad, but it was clearly a deliberate aim that caused her wing loss,” says Mello. “Bald eagles were saved from extinction because people cared. By giving Cheveyo a home here, we can connect people to these magnificent creatures, and create the empathy that inspires us all to protect them.”