Verde Canyon Railroad once declared Liberty Wildlife’s Sonora “the only train-riding bald eagle in the world.” This 12-year-old raptor, a resident of the Wildlife Rescue’s educational program, has been riding the train every month since July 2010. Permanently injured as an eaglet when her nest was attacked by Africanized bees, Sonora was not able to be released back into the wild. Consequently, she became one of Liberty Wildlife’s full-time residents.
Each month this majestic American icon visits Verde Canyon Railroad with volunteer handlers and, in addition to posing with train passengers, she’s also able to revisit the wild Verde River scenery of her youth. While on the four-hour train ride, her eyes alert, wings aloft to catch the canyon breezes, we’d like to believe Sonora is soaring as nature intended. However, she can no longer wear the title of The Only Train-Riding Bald Eagle.
Recently, the Sisterhood of Train-Riding Bald Eagles has expanded to three! In addition to Sonora, two other eagles from Liberty Wildlife, Laddie and Aurora, have become educational ambassadors on the rails of the Verde Canyon Railroad, sharing amazing photo ops while their handlers espouse fascinating information about Arizona’s bald eagle population with all who visit the depot and ride the train.
Laddie, her gender belied by her masculine moniker, was named for the Ladder’s Nest near Camp Verde, AZ., where she was born. This local “valley girl” hatched there five years ago, only to be snatched from the nest as a baby by a golden eagle and dropped. Luckily for Laddie, Arizona Game & Fish Eagle Watchers were on duty and witnessed the attack. The fall left Laddie with severe damage to one wing, breaking three bones in 14 places, leading to surgery and even a blood transfusion from Liberty Wildlife’s namesake, the grande dame of bald eagles, Lady Liberty.
As with Sonora, the extent of her injuries was too severe and she couldn’t survive in the wild. Though Laddie had visited Verde Canyon Railroad several times for educational events on the patio, she’d never ridden the rails until autumn 2017 when she joined the Traveling Sisterhood of the Train-Riding Bald Eagles!
Aurora is well known to the Phoenix area, having been a frequent guest in many parades, veterans’ rides and the Arizona Renaissance Fair with her handler, Joe Miller. She even has her own Facebook page, “Friends of Aurora.” She is a bit larger than the Arizona girls because she is native to Wisconsin where she hatched in 2001. As an eaglet, Aurora fell face-first into sharp sticks that had comprised the nest, puncturing an eye and causing her parents to abandon her. When her rescue facility in Wisconsin closed, they contacted the esteemed Liberty Wildlife to take Aurora under their wing. In February 2018 Aurora became the third eagle to join the Traveling Sisterhood of the Train-Riding Bald Eagles.
So, while it can no longer be said that Sonora is “The Only Train -Riding Bald Eagle in the World,” it still may be declared with 100% accuracy that there is still only one train ridden by bald eagles: Verde Canyon Railroad. Raptors at the Rails takes place twice a month, with educational presentations both at the depot and aboard the train. Patio events take place generally on a Wednesday or Thursday, 11:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. prior to the train’s 1:00 p.m. departure. On dates one of the Traveling Sisterhood of Train-Riding Bald Eagles is onboard the train from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., there also is a short opportunity at the depot at 12:30 p.m. for visitors not riding the rails to see one of these majestic creatures up close and personal. Upcoming dates of “Raptors at the Rails” events are listed at https://verdecanyonrr.com/events/wild-splendor/
Liberty Wildlife is located at 2600 E Elwood, Phoenix, AZ 85040. They have regular visiting hours open to the public, as well as special events scheduled year-round. Visit www.libertywildlife.org for more information.