The Eagle’s Rebirth. Uh-huh.

Okay, folks, today we will be discussing one of those internet pass-arounds which are meant to fill everyone with joy and inspiration, but which make wildlife rehabilitators look for the nearest wall against which to bang our heads. It is a lovely metaphor, but let’s just say it would not hold up in court. Here is the text:

The eagle has the longest lifespan among birds. It can live up to 70 years. But to reach this age, the eagle must make a hard decision.

In its 40’s, its long and flexible talons can no longer grab prey which serves as food. Its long and sharp beak becomes bent. Its old-aged and heavy wings, due to their thick feathers, become stuck to its chest and make it difficult to fly.

Then the eagle is left with only two options: die, or go through a painful process of change which lasts 150 days. The process requires that the eagle fly to a mountaintop and sit on its nest. There the eagle knocks its beak against a rock until it plucks it out. Afterward, the eagle will wait for a new beak to grow back, and then it will pluck out its talons. When its new talons grow back, the eagle starts plucking its old-aged feathers out. And after five months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years.

We sometimes need to get rid of old memories, habits and other past traditions. Only freed from past burdens, can we take advantage of the present.

I hate to be the bird geek who spoils the fun, but:

1) Eagles’ talons are not flexible. I know this because I once had one imbedded in me, and “flexible” is not how I would have described it.

2) Birds of prey ALL have bent beaks. That’s why they’re birds of prey, and not woodpeckers.

3) Every year (usually) eagles molt and grow a whole new set of feathers, whether they want to or not, but it’s a gradual process. Also, it’s cold in the mountains, which would deter any sane eagle from picking out all its feathers hanging around naked, waiting for them to grow back.

4) Captive eagles may be susceptible to mood disorders, but wild eagles are not. They are smart birds, with healthy self-images. They have places to go and fish to catch, which would not be possible if they were to remove their own body parts. Plus: what about infection? If they really were determined to bang their own faces against a rock until their beaks fell off, wouldn’t they first want to swing by the vet’s office and pick up some antibiotics? And maybe some morphine? A down coat might be helpful, too. Woolen booties. Ear muffs. I could go on.

5) And finally, birds are not like bears, who can put on an extra hundred pounds and chill out for five months. Eagles weigh about 12 pounds and have high metabolisms, so they need to keep up the food intake. Fourteeen days of fasting, let alone 150, and there would be serious problem looming.

Yes, sometimes we do need to get rid of old memories, habits, and traditions. But we don’t need to get rid of old beaks. Beaks endure. Talons endure. Wildlife rehabilitators endure. Beaks and talons are made of keratin, like our fingernails, and they grow, are worn down, and grow back again, just like wildlife rehabilitators.

It’s a nice legend, but eagles don’t go through the process of rebirth. Just being an eagle is miraculous enough.

Second photo by Murdo Macleod


About suziegilbert

I live in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley and have been rehabbing birds for over twenty years. I’ve written a memoir about the slippery slope all rehabbers eventually slide down, called “Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings,” published in 2009 by HarperCollins; and a children's book called "Hawk Hill," published in 1996 by Chronicle Books. I also write all kinds of freelance content. Please see my website,
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12 Responses to The Eagle’s Rebirth. Uh-huh.

  1. I remember when this “info” on eagles was going around, I cant believe that people actually believed it!!!!! Friends were forwarding this to me,I couldnt believe what I was reading! Wow, people are very gullable when it comes to wildlife, and animal facts. I usually just say “I dont know” when I am asked a question about wldlife that is not something I am familiar with.Then I try to do the homework to figure out the correct response.Well done, I enjoy your blog very much. I used to volunteer at a rehab facility in Westport CT.Now I am in western N.C. I have a U.S.Fish &Wildlife permit for Migratory songbirds, and a N.C. state permit.

  2. Teresa Smelser says:

    WOW-seriously? Who in the world came up with this goofy story?

  3. suziegilbert says:

    Thanks, Evangeline! Keep up your good work in NC, and thanks to you for doing songbirds, I think they’re the most difficult of all to rehab. Teresa – your guess is as good as mine!

  4. suziegilbert says:

    Hi Thomas,

    It started with Rene Descartes, who lived from the late 1500’s to mid-1600’s, and who is probably rotting in hell now for all the pain and suffering he’s caused animals through the ages. Hey, and thank you for all you do for our furry friends.

  5. eleanorwithers says:

    Smashing good pictures, ludicrous story, I love this blog…

  6. I can’t believe the in depth crap in this story. I’ve had people forward it to me as well. When I explain to them, that this story is not factual, I’ve had people argue with me, telling me it was and then adding a story with their information to ‘back it up’. I just walk away or hang up. Silly what people will allow themselves to believe. Common sense will clearly tell you this cannot be true.

  7. Lisa says:

    I LOVE your Blog and your honesty! Wildlife is lucky to have you!!! It never ceases to amaze me that people will believe anything.

  8. Bear says:

    People believe that shit?! What dumbass thinks that ANY animal of prey would pull out its claws and teeth (basically), shed all its outer coating, and stop eating for 150 days in a frozen wasteland? Maybe the people that think that should go do it instead, lol.

  9. Sylvia van Zyl says:

    Actually it originated from the Bible, as Psalmist and Zachariah said, God will renew our youth like unto an eagle……but hey who believes the Bible? Just a book full of prophecies that have all come true so far….and is still coming true every day!
    Sylvia South Africa

  10. Benjamin Barney says:

    Thank you for your wonderful debunking of that internet trash and thank you for your great sense of humor I do feel a bit foolish for even thinking it could be true but grateful I found your web site .


    • suziegilbert says:

      Thank YOU, Ben! If someone told me something outlandish about a car (not my area of expertise) I might believe it at first, but I like to think I’d do some more research – like you did. Cheers!

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