By BRIAN WALKER
SANDERS — Daiya Vargas's eyes lit up as she watched eagles settle into their newly built home at the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's aviary on Monday.
"It's helping them," the Coeur d'Alene Tribal School third-grader said during the grand opening of the aviary for wounded eagles that can't be rehabilitated and released to the wild. "I really like how pretty their feathers are."
Three bald eagles and three golden eagles have been moved from the nonprofit Birds of Prey Northwest site near St. Maries, a temporary home for two years, to the Tribe's aviary on tribal land south of De Smet off U.S. 95.
Tribal leader Dave Matheson and Natural Resources Director Caj Matheson gave the aviary a special blessing before letting attendees take a peek inside when one of the bald eagles took a short flight.
"They know what they are getting, and they are happy about it," Dave Matheson told the crowd.
Nate Albrecht, of the Tribe's Natural Resources staff, designed the 75-by-24 foot aviary that is 16 feet tall at its highest point. The facility features a pond, tree trunks, perches and natural lighting.
The six eagles have been picked up from locations across the Northwest.
"We wanted to make sure it's nice and tall but doesn't have rafters for the birds to get stuck in," Albrecht said. "We wanted to make it comfortable and create as natural of an environment as possible."
Program Manager Cameron Heusser said the aviary cost about $50,000 in tribal funds. It was built by tribal staff.
The Tribe obtained a permit through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows them to house eagles with injuries. It is the only tribal aviary in the Northwest.
The eagles will continue to be cared for by Janie Veltkamp, a raptor biologist with Birds of Prey.
The aviary is the brainchild of former Natural Resources Director Alfred Nomee, who said the Tribe has a close spiritual connection to eagles.
"All you young people, we have a responsibility to take care of our ancestors," Nomee told the students. "It is our time to make sure our brother eagles have a place to live."
Caj Matheson said many tribal people believe that the eagles take prayers up to their creator.
"They're the top of the chain," he said. "It is an honor to give back to these eagles because they have given so much to our Tribe."
Matheson said the aviary location is optimal because it’s in a quiet and peaceful place.
"We're already doing a lot of tribal wetland management in this area," he said. "Eventually restoring the salmon is our goal."
Dave Matheson said eagles were nearly decimated in this area before making a comeback.
"They have come back and we as people have come back," he said. "This (aviary) is a place of decency and beauty."