A famous Bald Eagle is coming to Marion and you can meet him!
Challenger was born in 1989 and turns 30 this year. He lives at the American Eagle Foundation, located at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge.
For the past 25 years, Challenger has traveled coast to coast performing free-flight appearances and gloved appearances at national sporting events, conventions, conferences, galas, fundraisers, schools and other events. He will be retiring this year.
Born in the Spring of 1989, Challenger was blown from a wild nest in Louisiana during a storm. He was rescued by humans, who proceeded to hand-feed and raise him. Unfortunately, he experienced too much human contact during his early years and became dependent upon humans for food.
Unable to be released into the wild, Challenger was transferred to the Audubon Zoo of New Orleans. The zookeepers tried to release him into the wild several times, but each time he ended up landing near people to beg for food. Due to this, fish and wildlife agencies placed the eagle into the care of the American Eagle Foundation.
He was named Challenger in honor of the fallen crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
Challenger is the first Bald Eagle in U.S. history to be trained to free-fly in major sports stadiums, arenas, and ballrooms during the National Anthem. He has performed over 350 free flight demonstrations over the years and has his image on a Tennessee specialty license plate.
If you’d like to meet Challenger, the Collins House Inn Bed & Breakfast in downtown Marion will host a “Meet & Greet” with Challenger at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the gazebo prior to his performance at the Lincoln Theater. The meet and greet are free to attend, but donations are accepted with 100% of donations benefiting the American Eagle Foundation.
Saturday’s show at the Lincoln Theater will feature James Rogers, the Marion Senior High School Chorus and the First United Methodist Church Children’s Choice performing Christmas songs and a tribute to the military. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students and children.