ACES’ iconic Golden Eagle died of natural causes at Aspen’s Hallam Lake on Sunday

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
ACES's Golden Eagle earlier this year at Hallam Lake.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

The iconic golden eagle that inspired curiosity about nature among tens of thousands of kids died at her enclosure Sunday at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.

The eagle, 38, appeared to die from a sudden illness or possibly just old age, according to Chris Lane, the organization’s CEO. There was no attack by a predator or anything like that, he said.

A caretaker found the eagle on her back but breathing Sunday. She died within seconds after he righted her.

“This is not only a loss for ACES, but also a loss for our entire community,” Lane said in a statement. “She reminded all of us of our collective and ongoing work to protect our environment and the natural world.”

“This will ripple through the schools and teachers.” — Chris Lane, CEO of ACES

In an interview Monday, Lane said the broader ACES family was taking the news hard as word spread.

“This will ripple through the schools and teachers,” he said.

Hikers found the injured golden eagle in the summer of 1982 on the Bell Mountain part of Aspen Mountain ski area. She was a yearling that apparently crashed while hunting, according to Lane.

She was taken to a raptor rehabilitation center in Fort Collins and treated for a broken wing and leg. She also was trained to live in captivity.

Upon recovery, the eagle was returned to ACES’ Hallam Lake headquarters where she has lived since. She was unable to return to the wild due to permanent injuries. ACES’ research indicates she was one of the oldest captive golden eagles in the world. Lane said Golden eagles in the wild live between 10 and 20 years, but they are battling the elements.

ACES’ golden eagle was an excellent environmental educator, viewed daily by school kids and other visitors to Hallam Lake over the years. The staff estimated she was in front of roughly 10,000 people per year.

Lane said Hallam Lake regularly hosts visitors who remember the eagle from a prior visit many years earlier. She was a highlight for many visitors of all ages.

By ACES’ reckoning, the golden eagle has graced the cover of Aspen’s local newspapers more than Aspen historical human icons such as Elizabeth Paepcke, John Denver and Jerome Wheeler. She was last featured on the cover of the Aspen Times Weekly on Feb. 7.

ACES’ natural director Jim Kravitz was the eagle’s primary handler.

“When handling her, if you were timid she would walk all over you,” Kravitz said. “If you were overconfident, she would rebuff you. She was intuitive and could read each individual human.”

The golden eagle was informally known as Belle because she was found on Bell Mountain, but the ACES’ staff avoided using her name for the most part because she had been a wild raptor, Lane said.

ACES is still home for a red tailed hawk and a great horned owl.

“We anticipate we would pursue another raptor,” Lane said.

ACES is preparing a way to honor the golden eagle through a collection of stories and photos. Details will be released at a later date.