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Challenger, The Free-Flying National Anthem Eagle

Challenger, The Flying National Anthem Eagle

Photo by: Eleanor Davies
©American Eagle Foundation
International rights reserved

"Challenger" is a non-releasable Bald Eagle cared for by the non-profit American Eagle Foundation (formerly named National Foundation to Protect America's Eagles), headquartered at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

In early 1989, Challenger was blown from a wild nest as a baby during a storm, and was hand raised by the people who found him. Unfortunately, he experienced too much human contact at a very young age and became highly "human socialized."

He was released into the wild twice during the summer of 1989. After his second release into the wild, Challenger landed near a man to beg for food. The man was frightened and picked up a stick, intending to hit the eagle. Fortunately, another man intervened and prevented Challenger from being harmed.

This was the third time Challenger had sought out people looking for food when he became hungry, so it was determined that he could not survive on his own in the wild. At that point, federal and state fish and wildlife agencies placed the eagle in the care of the American Eagle Foundation, where he continues to help educate millions of people about the majestic Bald Eagle.

Challenger is named in honor of the crew of the space shuttle, and has been making educational appearances throughout the country since 1993. Acting as an ambassador for his species, Challenger has raised a great level of national public awareness about the need to restore and protect America's eagles, natural resources and environment. The bald eagle is still a "threatened" species throughout the lower 48 states, and much of its nesting and feeding habitat is being encroached upon by humans.

Challenger is the first bald eagle in U.S. history trained to free-fly into major league sports stadiums during the presentation of the National Anthem. He has participated in five MLB World Series (2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1998), three NFL Pro-Bowls (2004, 2003, 2002), 1999 Fiesta Bowl, and 2005 NCAA Men’s Final Four Basketball Tournament, as well as sports events for the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, Green Bay Packers, Anaheim Angels, Buffalo Bills, Florida Marlins, Indianapolis Colts, Texas Rangers, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, LSU Tigers, Florida Seminoles, Georgia Southern Eagles, Carson-Newman Eagles, and University of Tennessee Volunteers.

He has also performed free-flight demonstrations at the Bass Masters Classic, Para-Olympic Games opening ceremony at Olympic Stadium in Atlanta, Disney's Animal kingdom opening ceremony, World War II Memorial groundbreaking ceremony, and the White House to mention a few. In addition, he has accompanied the Olympic Flag on a special tour around the State of Georgia, and has appeared on numerous national TV shows, including The David Letterman Show, CBS This Morning and Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures. On April 6, 2015, Challenger flew during the National Anthem at the NCAA Men's Basketball Finals in Indianapolis.

Video of Challenger

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