Rare Imperial Eagle Gets Flying Lessons in Israel

After patching up the injured bird, wildlife experts are giving her a refresher course in using her wings.

A unique flight training program, aimed at rehabilitating a wounded Imperial Eagle, is underway in a field at a park near Tel Aviv.  

The bird, a female, belongs to a species that is considered extremely rare, not only in Israel but in the entire world.

She was found injured four months ago in the Negev and taken to the Israeli Wildlife Hospital and Rehabilitation Center at the Ramat Gan Safari. There, hospital director Dr. Yigal Horowitz performed complicated surgery aimed at saving her wing, which had been severely damaged, apparently by gunfire. After surgery and physiotherapy, the patient has recovered but because so much time elapsed since the injury, her flying ability has been impaired. So the center's staff enlisted Eyal Lifshitz, who completed a falconry course in Scotland, to help out. Falconers train birds of prey to fly and return with prey.  Lifshitz already rehabilitated a rare falcon that had been brought, injured, to the safari hospital.

The flying lesson takes place just a few kilometers from Ben-Gurion International Airport, at the Ariel Sharon Park, a former waste recycling site known as Hiriya. On a cultivated field at the park, the staff from the hospital and Nature and Parks Authority gather around the "student."  

Lifshitz carefully ties a rope, 70 meters long, to the eagle’s foot and then places her on a special pole. After encouragement from the caregivers she spreads her wings and flies. It's clear that her flying ability has improved and she manages to take off into the air a number of times, flying in a stable manner.

It is estimated that only about  2,000 Imperial Eagles remain in the world. Every year a few dozen pairs come to Israel during the migration season. But many are shot by hunters or electrocuted by high tension wires and are brought to the Israel Wildlife Hospital for treatment.

If the flight training proves successful,  the eagle may soon be released back into the wild, in the Judean plain, the area of Israel with the highest concentration of Imperial Eagles.