A Smoky Mountain Love Story: Rehabilitated Bald Eagles Find Each Other in the Wild

Two bald eagles in a nest.
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Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains are an incredibly romantic destination….and not just for humans! A very special couple recently returned to the Smokies to raise a family: a pair of bald eagles known as “Lady Independence” and “Sir Hatcher II.” Both eagles were rehabilitated by the American Eagle Foundation in Pigeon Forge and released into the wild five years apart.

When Lady Independence and Sir Hatcher II showed up together in the Smoky Mountains this year, the team at the American Eagle Foundation was absolutely floored that two of their eagles had found each other in the wild. Al Cecere, the founder of the AEF, told local news station WBIR, “How these two got together, to me, is a phenomenal occurrence.” You can hear all about the eagles’ improbable love story in the video below:

Lady Independence and Sir Hatcher I

Our story begins way back in 2008 when Lady Independence was released into the wild by the American Eagle Foundation. After three years on her own, Lady Independence reached maturity and chose a mate. When she returned to Sevierville with her partner, a wild eagle, the AEF dubbed him “Sir Hatcher.”

Lady Independence and Sir Hatcher initially had a tough time starting a family. Two of their nests were blown down, and on one occasion, the ruined nest was harboring two eaglets. (Fortunately, the AEF was able to rescue the young birds.) Eventually, the couple moved to a new location where they were able to build a more stable nest and raise a number of children. Lady Independence and Sir Hatcher faithfully returned to Sevierville each fall for six years.

A New Love for Lady Independence

A pair of bald eagles perched on a tree.When Lady Independence made her way back to Sevierville this year, AEF team members were shocked to see that she was with a different partner. A local photographer sent AEF founder Al Cecere a picture of Lady Independence and her new beau that showed that the male bird was also wearing a band on his leg.

After examining several photographs, the AEF staff was able to piece together the ID on the band. As it turns out, the male eagle was another AEF alum! The bird had been rescued from an empty nest a number of years ago and was released into the wild in 2013.

The AEF team began calling the male “Sir Hatcher II,” as a tribute to Lady Independence’s first partner. Since eagles usually mate for life, it is likely that the original Sir Hatcher passed away sometime last year.

Since they have returned to Sevierville, Lady Independence and Sir Hatcher II have been busy raising three eaglets of their own. For Al Cecere, the unlikely love story between two of his rehabilitated eagles was deeply meaningful. Cecere told WBIR, “That just hit me in a powerful way. I said, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’”

See Challenger the Eagle in the Smoky Mountains

Majestic closeup of a bald eagle.Did you know that America’s most famous bald eagle lives in Pigeon Forge? “Challenger” is a non-releasable bald eagle who was trained by the AEF to fly over baseball fields, football stadiums, and other events. When you visit AEF Headquarters in the Smokies, you may have the chance to see Challenger in person. For more information, read our blog about Challenger!

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