Iconic bald eagle celebrates 21st birthday with a bash

Published: May. 18, 2014 at 3:20 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 2, 2014 at 1:50 AM EDT
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Aquila turned 21 this month.
Aquila turned 21 this month.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It's not everyday a bald eagle celebrates its birthday. But Saturday at the Raptor Rehabilitation of Kentucky, Inc. (RROKI) there were games, treats and plenty of birthday cake as people posed with the nation's bird.

Aquila, Latin for eagle, hatched in Saginaw Bay, Michigan on May 13, 1993.

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He was 8 months old when he was shot through his right shoulder as he migrated through Kentucky. The wound was infected, and the bird was severely emaciated when rescuers with the center rushed to the aid.

The ordeal left Aquila unable to fly. But it opened up some other possibilities.

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The eagle isn't shy when it comes to people snapping his picture. In 2000, he became the poster child for the U.S. Army Recruiting Support Battalion.

It's Aquila's picture on the Army's recruiting vehicles that criss-cross the country visiting more than 145,000 students each year.

Now, Aquila is an education bird at the RROKI center in Louisville where volunteers aim to teach residents about the majesty and frailty of birds of prey. According to RROKI's website, officials with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFW) counted only one eagle's nest in 1986. In 2013, the same survey found 123 nesting pairs.

The KDFW conducts aerial nest counts each year during March or April. Bald eagles have been taken off the federal endangered species list after the ban of DDT and federal protection of feeding and nesting sites.

Their life span averages up to 30 years old.

RROKI is a non-profit organization run by volunteers and relies on the public's donations. They treat up to 300 sick, injured or orphaned raptors each year, releasing more than 60% back into the wild.

For more information on the birds, RROKI or how to help, visit raptorrehab.org.

If you find an injured raptor, you can call RROKI at (502) 491-1939.

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