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Birds for a feather

  Eagle feathers have been important cultural and spiritual symbols for members of the Pueblo of Zuni. "They symbolize strength, courage and vision," explains Edward Wemytewa, cultural liaison for the tribe. Until recently, however, tribal members had to put their names on a 5,000-person waiting list to receive a carcass from the National Eagle Repository. With about 1,100 birds coming into the repository a year, that's about five years of waiting.

Steven Albert, director of the Zuni Fish and Wildlife Department, and John Antonio, now Native American liaison for the Fish and Wildlife Service, were tired of the wait and eager to revive the centuries-old tradition of Zuni eagle husbandry. They put their heads together with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and came up with a solution. By constructing a state-of-the-art eagle facility, the Zuni Eagle Aviary, the Pueblo was able to obtain permits to care for domesticated or permanently disabled birds. The facility is now home to 15 bald and golden eagles; the tribe collects the feathers as they molt and distributes them to tribal members.

With 70 percent of the 10,000-member tribe practicing the traditional Zuni religion, feathers are used for anything from blessings and initiation ceremonies to adornment of religious dance costumes.

The project has been such a success that the tribe is now looking into developing a captive breeding facility. Antonio says the hope is to "restore and recover golden eagles in the area where they were historically present."

To find out more about the aviary, or to arrange a visit, please call 505/782-5851.