Farther along are
several golden eagles. Two of them are also gunshot victims. They are looking
well and will soon be released to the wild. So will a large, lovely female
golden eagle that was found by a woman about 80 miles away in a meadow near a
mountain lake. She drove the nearly starved bird to Siddon on her lap.
Apparently it, too, had flown into a power line and broken a wing. Siddon fed
the bird back to health and implanted steel screws in the injured wing. It will
be ready for release this spring.
over there," Siddon says, pointing to a large female golden that has been
screeching continually for several minutes, "is imprinted. That means she
grew up with humans and associates with them instead of with her own kind.
We'll never be able to release her. But she more than pays her own way. She was
featured in a John Denver television special, and not long ago she made a Ford
Thunderbird commercial. She's a beautiful bird now, but when we got her she was
suffering from malnutrition. Her owners—she'd been stolen off a nest—had been
feeding her bologna, which doesn't contain enough protein for eagles."
Beyond the pens
is a large cage containing various species of hawks, including Happy, who,
according to Siddon, is probably the most widely photographed red-tail on
earth. Most Americans have seen her on Buick commercials and in print ads. All
proceeds earned by Siddon's birds go back to the center. An accomplished
independent film-maker himself, Siddon has contributed segments to both The
American Sportsman and Last of the Wild television series. Public donations
also help pay the bills, and the center is healthy financially.
Judy, and 28-year-old son, David Jr., work with me, and we've hired a young
biologist for our educational programs," Siddon says. "They give their
presentations—films, talks and exposure to the living birds and animals—in
school assemblies across the country. We've been in 32 states so far, and last
year we reached about 600,000 youngsters. We have a traveling Birds of Prey
program, a Vanishing Species program in Colorado and a Watchable Wildlife
program here in Oregon. Next year we hope to expand and get to the Northeast,
Southeast and Midwest. We want to add two more Birds of Prey programs and two
on Animals Nobody Loves—skunks, vultures and the like. When you can get to
young people and show them a hawk or eagle up close, they're a lot less likely
to shoot one if they ever take up hunting. And they're going to be a lot more
likely to learn to love wild creatures, not to see them as something to
destroy, or exploit, or ignore."
Images Center isn't open to the public yet, but Siddon is building new pens for
his birds—they will offer better viewing opportunities—and he hopes to open
soon on a limited basis, for guided tours and photography workshops. If he can
find a good buy on some AstroTurf to cover the floors of his new pens, things
will be ready by summer.
"In a way I'm
living my father's dream here," he says. "He was born in Tennessee and
raised and cared for birds all his life. I grew up in Southern California, the
San Fernando Valley, and our backyard was always full of cages. My father
treated injured birds, and he raised doves, finches and parakeets and sold them
to make money for vacations. He worked as a mechanic, but he always hoped to be
able to devote all his time to birds. But the Depression came along, and then
the war. He knew a lot, and I learned from him. I haven't had any formal
training to speak of in what I do here, but I had my first patient when I was
nine years old—a mourning dove. Next there was a mockingbird. When I was 12 I
remember a barn owl, and by the time I was 17 I was up to golden eagles. Look!
See up there?"
A screech owl is
sitting on an oak tree limb, staring down from 30 feet away. "We released
her awhile back, but she's not sure she wants to leave, either," Siddon
In another line
of pens is an assortment of owls and a vulture with a bad left leg. Siddon
reaches into one of the pens and comes out with a pygmy owl, which is barely
larger than a sparrow, but with formidable talons and bright yellow eyes.
"Ounce for ounce, he's as deadly as any predator alive," Siddon says.
"Around here we have to remember that all of these are wild creatures, not
pets. I almost lost an eye to a golden eagle once, and a thumb to a
toward the barn, Siddon remembers a story. This one really makes him smile.
"But, of course, it's their wild-ness we want to preserve," he begins.
"In 1981 a state biologist brought me a bald eagle from up near Glide,
along the North Umpqua River. It was one of a pair that had been observed in
that area. The bird was almost dead when my friend got him here by pickup on a
Sunday morning. He couldn't even hold his head up. It was strychnine poisoning.
I could smell it right away. He'd probably been at a tainted carcass set out
for coyote bait. We force-fed him for weeks, finally nursed him back to health.
When it came time to take the bird back where it came from to release it—this
was in April—the press and television people came out to watch.
makes me a little nervous, because I'm afraid a bird might just fly up to the
nearest tree limb and sit there looking back at me. But everything went
perfectly. Like they said the next day in the Roseburg paper, Walt Disney
couldn't have written a better script. When I set the eagle free, he sailed
straight across the river. He was full of energy, really going!" At this
point, Siddon begins to flap his arms like wings, trying to recreate the
moment. "He caught a thermal and went up 800 or 1,000 feet and then circled
for a while. Then he caught another thermal and rose another 1,000 feet.
Minutes had passed by then. When he finally leveled off up there, he was just a
speck. And then another eagle appeared, sailing in from somewhere! Suddenly
there were two of them there, and off they went together. Why, by that time the
woman running the television camera was in tears. It was perfect all
right—better than perfect! That's what it's all about!"