African American Military History Museum Hattiesburg Zoo Hattiesburg Saenger

Golden Eagle Exhibit at the Hattiesburg Zoo FAQs


1.      What made this exhibit possible?

The University of Southern Mississippi Alumni Association in partnership with the USM Foundation and Student Government Association provided the beautiful golden eagle habitat.  The Hattiesburg Zoo provided the required licensure through the United States Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, as well as, the intensive training for each keeper (300 hours each).  The Zoo will also provide the on-going day-to-day care necessary to house a golden eagle.


2.      How much did this project cost?

The habitat cost $70,000 to construct, not including the cost of training and other ancillary expenses.  However, a golden eagle, by law, can not be purchased and any golden eagle on exhibit is actually on loan through the United States Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.


3.      Why is Nugget on exhibit at the Zoo and not on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi?

The golden eagle exhibit at the Hattiesburg Zoo is a permitted holding facility by the USDWF.  Such a facility has to be at the location of the permit holder and in a zoological (raptor) educational setting.  This exhibit is a great example of how our community benefits when entities work together and it will also serve as a great educational opportunity for the public to learn more about USM’s namesake. 


4.      Who owns Nugget?

No one.  By federal law, golden eagles are under the protection of the United States Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.  Holding a golden eagle illegally is considered a felony and is punishable by law.


5.      Why do we have an injured eagle?

All injured eagles are rehabilitated and returned to the wild if they are capable of surviving.  Only those eagles which can no longer survive in the wild are permitted to be used for exhibition.  Unless illegally born into captivity and rescued, almost all eagles either on exhibit or glove-handled for educational purposes are injured and incapable of surviving on their own.


6.      Can Nugget travel to campus for games?

No.  Nugget is a mature wild bird, and by regulation of the permit granted, must always remain in his exhibit to avoid any potential threat or danger to himself or the public.


7.      Will you ever have an eagle that can travel to other locations including campus?

Possibly.  Our long term goal is to apply for a “glove” permit.  However, to qualify for this type of licensure, additional training is required (500 hours total per keeper), as well as, a completely separate holding space for the eagle, which would first need to be constructed.  We would also have to locate a young eagle that can be trained specifically for the purpose of interacting with the public and being handled on a glove in large crowds of people.  Remember, golden eagles are predators.


8.      Will there ever be an eagle capable of flying prior to games like they do at Auburn?

This is very unlikely.  Auburn’s situation is unique.  Not only do they have a Raptor Institute which uniquely equips them to rehabilitate rescued birds, but in addition, the eagles that fly at Auburn were illegally born into captivity and rescued after human imprinting had occurred.  Once imprinted by humans, these birds are not capable of surviving in the wild; however, because these particular eagles were born into captivity, they were never injured, making it possible for them to be trained to fly in unique situations.


9.      Will there ever be more than one eagle in the habitat?

We hope so.  Stay tuned for future updates!  Again, this type of permit would be specifically for an “exhibit only” eagle, as they are not trained for the purpose of interacting with the public on a glove.


10.   How old is Nugget?

Nugget’s age is unknown, but we know he is a mature adult.


11.   Where was he found?

 Nugget was found in California


12.   How large is Nugget?

Nugget is approximately 9 lbs with a 6 foot wingspan and 3” talons.


13.   How was Nugget injured?

Due to his broad wing span, Nugget was electrocuted when he flew in between two power lines.


14.   Can Nugget fly?

No.  Due to his injury, Nugget is only able to get up to distances of 10 to 15 feet.


15.   What does Nugget eat?

Golden eagles eat rabbits and other small mammals, as well as, rodents, such as mice. Some golden eagles have been known to even attack small deer. Nugget's diet consists of mice and other rodents.


16.   How often is Nugget fed?

Nugget is fed once per day.


17.   What happens to Nugget’s feathers that fall out?

By law, eagle feathers are collected and once per year returned to the United States Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to be provided to Native American tribes for ceremonial use.