Wildlife Images bid one of its icons farewell this week after a soaring career delighting and educating Southern Oregonians.
Phoenix the golden eagle was put down at the age of 38, after doctors discovered that he was in end-stage kidney failure. He also had cataracts that increasingly affected his quality of life, the nonprofit said in a release.
“It’s like losing a member of your family,” said Wildlife Images Executive Director Dave Siddon, Jr.
He became Phoenix’s de facto parent when the eagle was still an eaglet, discovered alone and sick on the side of a logging road near Brookings in spring 1980.
Siddon helped nurse the bird back to health and raised him to adulthood, forming a bond that lasted for nearly four decades.
Dependent as he was on humans to survive, Phoenix’s life was anything but tame. He and Siddon worked together in a variety of capacities, from entertainment to education.
The pair traveled nationwide for Phoenix’s acting career; he was featured in John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain Reunion” and an unreleased Disney IMAX movie, Siddon said, as well as several commercials and campaigns.
“When you see him up close — you know, the size, their appearance is just breathtaking,” Siddon said, adding that Phoenix was “hurt-your-eyes beautiful to look at.”
It took a certain amount of trust to perform that kind of work, which he said was a constant between them.
“I’ve worked with hundreds of eagles,” said Siddon, who took over Wildlife Images from his father. “And of all the ones I’ve worked with ... he’s just above and beyond all the others as far as the whole package.”
Phoenix was more than an actor, however — he was also a teacher. His years at the Portland Zoo and at Wildlife Images were spent educating visitors on the behaviors and traits of eagles and other raptors, as well as the threats they face.
“Having an interpretive critter that can get close to the public and give them that appreciation is invaluable,” Siddon said. “A world without these animals is just two-dimensional.”
He said he hopes that Phoenix’s presentations to audiences helped cement an appreciation for raptors in their minds.
“They’ve got a tough world out there,” he said. “If it makes people more conscientious of that and able to be better voters and help protect the environment so we’ll have space for the wild animals, that’s a mission that I think would be really, really critical.”