All About Buddy

 Over the years, Wildlife Center supporters have been able to follow Buddy the Bald Eagle’s story through online posts, special events and public appearances, and educational programs. Continue reading below for a summary of his time at the Center through the years.


An eaglet hatched at the Norfolk Botanical Garden created a worldwide following through its online appearances on "Eagle Cam." The young bird was admitted as a patient in May 2008 to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. Known to the Wildlife Center staff as #08-0887, this young eagle was diagnosed with avian pox—a widespread viral disease in birds. Click here to read more about Buddy's medical history during 2008, featuring updates written by former Wildlife Center Director of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Dave McRuer.

  • On May 30, 2008, Center President and co-founder Ed Clark was the featured guest in a live Web chat about the eaglet, hosted by WVEC-TV, a Norfolk-based news media outlet. See the chat transcripts here
  • More background information on the Avian Poxvirus is available here


In August 2009, the Wildlife Center veterinarians declared that eaglet #08-0887 was non-releasable, due to a permanently malformed beak as a result of a large avian pox lesion. During this time, the Center began a process to determine the best placement for the young eagle, recognizing that he would continue to need frequent beak trims and appropriate housing.

Throughout the year, he was housed in several outdoor flight pens and monitored by the Center’s rehabilitation staff during daily checks. His hatch day on April 27, 2009, was celebrated with a special meal of bluefish. On September 19, 2009, the Wildlife Center hosted a day-long open house for members of the Norfolk Eagle Support Team International, an online community comprised of individuals who regularly watched the Norfolk Botanic Garden's "Eagle Cam". 


In April 2010, eaglet #08-0887 officially became "Buddy" -- a name already familiar to many of his loyal fans. The Wildlife Center also announced that Buddy would become a permanent member of the Center’s corps of non-releasable education animals; in addition to being seen by visitors to the Wildlife Center, many education ambassador animals travel with Center staff and take part in environmental education programs in elementary school classrooms, auditoriums, public libraries, county fairs, and other venues.

Members of the Center’s outreach staff started training Buddy with this goal in mind in February 2010.  One of the first objectives was to train Buddy to sit calmly on a handler’s gloved hand so that he could be taken to programs and presentations off-site. On October 16, the Wildlife Center hosted “Buddy Day”, one of the first on-site events where members of the public learned more about Buddy and his medical history, visited his temporary outdoor enclosure, heard insights on training methods, and learned more about the Center’s education and outreach efforts. 


When the Wildlife Center announced that Buddy would become an education ambassador, many "Buddy fans" began asking about a new enclosure for him -- one that would be more fitting for such a famous and well-loved bird. As the 2011 Garden of Eagles calendar took shape that year, supporters decided that the proceeds from the sale of the calendar should be earmarked for the construction of a new permanent home for Buddy. After much planning and discussion, building materials were purchased in July. Construction work began in August, and by September, the enclosure was ready for Buddy’s big move!



After taking a break from his regular training routine for a few months to adjust to his new enclosure, Buddy was ready to get back to work. Training goals at this time were focused on glove work, tolerating handling equipment that’s applied before leaving the enclosure, and experiencing small audiences during training sessions.


As regular training sessions with Buddy continued to show progress, staff began to consider the possibility of his readiness for being featured during an off-site educational program. In May of 2012, all of that hard work paid off. Buddy’s first official off-site appearance in public was at the Norfolk Botanical Garden Eagle Fest, first indoors with Wildlife Center President and Co-founder Ed Clark at the symposium, where Ed spoke about Buddy’s arrival at the Center in 2008, and outside soon after where Ed addressed a much larger crowd on the same topic.


Buddy’s career as an education ambassador was in full swing by 2013, and he made several appearances at major events throughout the year. On April 21, he was even featured in a special Jack Hanna show and reception at the historic Paramount Theater in Charlottesville!

On his fifth hatch day (April 27), Buddy traveled to Waynesboro’s Riverfest celebration and was featured during an educational program about the Center and its work. Buddy was also featured as a special guest at the Center’s Annual Gala and Benefit Auction for the first time in 2013.  


From 2008 to 2014, Buddy fans and Center staff enjoyed seeing him mature into an adult eagle. By April 2014, Buddy was six years of age – well into adulthood and considered to be fully grown.

His annual exam that took place in February showed that he was a healthy eagle aside from his malformed beak, and his daily training sessions continued to prepare him for public appearances and events such as Riverfest, the Annual Gala and Benefit Auction, and even a meeting of the Virginia Horse Council at Douthat State Park. This was Buddy’s first time seeing horses!


During 2015, Buddy began displaying some instinctive territorial behaviors that are normal for adult eagles, even in captive settings. He became more defensive and at times aggressive toward staff members while inside his enclosure, prompting the staff to modify his space.

A new access door was constructed that lead directly into his enclosure from outside – combined with the existing vestibule layout, this allowed staff to safely enter his main enclosure for cleaning, maintenance, etc., while Buddy was temporarily in the closed-off vestibule. This relatively simple modification to the enclosure, and changes in where Buddy was fed, eliminated the risk to our staff from Buddy’s territorial behaviors and is still in use today.


Buddy adjusted very well to his modified enclosure and feeding routine, and staff began to include more time spent in a travel crate during his daily training sessions. Buddy continued to spend time on the road traveling for major public programs. 2016 was the first year Buddy traveled to the State Fair of Virginia, and he even celebrated his eighth hatch day during a special presentation at Wild Birds Unlimited in Virginia Beach!

During 2016, one of his training goals was to reduce the amount of baiting (flying from the glove) in new settings or busy places. As staff noted in online Buddy Training blogs, training him would be “a life-long commitment”, and would never be considered “done” – improvements and new behaviors could always be incorporated into his training goals.


Nine years after being admitted to the Center as a patient, Buddy had become a prolific member of the education ambassador team. Through both on- and off-site programs, he had reached tens of thousands of children and adults with educational messages related to the Center, its work, wild eagles, and the environment as a whole.

Coincidentally, another well-known eagle appeared at the Center in 2017: an adult male Bald Eagle that was hit by a vehicle in Virginia Beach on September 1. The eagle was banded as “HK” – a well-known bird in the eagle community. This eagle hatched in 2009 and was a full sibling to Buddy, who hatched in 2008.


April 27, 2018, marked a special day for Buddy – his 10th hatch day! It was also a special day for staff, Buddy fans, and Center supporters. During a three-day-long celebration, members of the public were invited to the Center for tours, eagle-themed party games and crafts, visiting time with Buddy at his outdoor enclosure, and more. His hatch day weekend concluded with his 6th consecutive public appearance at Riverfest in Waynesboro.

During the late fall, many supporters heard of the severe ice storm that struck the Center on November 15, 2018. A large number of mature trees in and around the education ambassador and patient enclosures were weighed down heavily with ice, and limbs and entire trees started falling. That night, and the next day, trees continued to fall at the Center – irreparably damaging a number of enclosures.  The Center remained without power for more than three days. Miraculously, no humans or animals were harmed during the ordeal; however, major reconstruction efforts took more than five weeks to complete. During those weeks, Buddy spent much of his time either crated indoors, tethered to an indoor perch, or secured within his outdoor enclosure’s vestibule.


Following the ice storm of 2018, Buddy’s training routine was significantly disrupted for an extended amount of time, and he began showing signs of stress and discomfort when asked to crate or stand on a handling glove, leading staff to re-evaluate his readiness for off-site appearances involving travel and reassess which training goals should take priority.

Serendipitously, Buddy “met” a staggering number of people worldwide during 2019 by being featured in the Center’s made-for-television series, Untamed! 


With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, regular operations at the Center were adjusted to protect the health of staff and the general public – including the decision to temporarily cease all in-person educational programming. Thanks to the Center’s existing and robust presence online through its homepage and social media channels, outreach staff began to present more and more programs in a virtual, live-streaming format.

Thousands of viewers had the chance to see Buddy during virtual Open House tours, enrichment delivery live streams, and his special 13th hatch day celebration.  


Throughout 2021, outreach staff continued to only offer virtual educational programs and presentations. Buddy’s large, open enclosure made him a perfect candidate for participating, and by this time he had become more comfortable on the glove while indoors on camera. Buddy was featured in an online Eagle Fest presentation with Mason Neck State Park, and even attended the 2021 Annual Gala and Benefit Auction – virtually!

By 2021, Buddy’s custom-designed enclosure was more than a decade old and needed several repairs, renovations, and replacements. Renovations were completed in November, thanks to the proceeds from the 2022 Garden of Eagles calendars donated to the cause.


In January 2022, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza [HPAI] was detected in the United States for the first time since 2016, and in February 2022, the first positive detection in Virginia occurred in a wild duck. While the Wildlife Center’s ability to admit native wild avian patients was not affected, restrictions for off-site education programming were enacted to protect the health of the Center's patients and resident raptor ambassadors. Even though Buddy did not travel off-site during 2022, he continued to fulfill his role as an education ambassador through virtual and online presentations.

During a special enrichment-themed month of programming, viewers had the chance to see Buddy interact with paper-mâché fish filled with some of his favorite foods live on camera.