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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." As a result, "Challenger" thinks he's a person, and cannot survive on his own in the wild.

He was released into the wild twice during the summer of 1989. After his second release into the wild, "Challenger" was rescued from a close encounter with death. He had landed near a man to beg for food, and almost got beat up by that person with a stick. Another man was "Challenger's" guardian angel that day. He stopped the stick-wielding human from doing bodily harm to the eagle. This had been the third time Challenger had sought out people looking for food when he became hungry, so he was placed under the care of the American Eagle Foundation for educational purposes by federal and state fish & wildlife agencies.

"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, White House to mention a few. In addition, he as 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.

Video of Challenger

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