“Keeping America's Eagles Flying Strong and Free”
In 1983, an AP photograph appeared in The Tennessean depicting two dozen Bald Eagles shot by poachers in the Dakotas. Al Louis Cecere experienced a life-changing moment that aroused his passion to save a precious species. From that moment on, he was determined to do all he could to restore and protect our nation’s Bald Eagle population.
In 1985, Cecere founded the American Eagle Foundation. The American Eagle Foundation (AEF) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to care for, restore and protect the USA’ s living symbol of freedom, the Bald Eagle, and other birds of prey. The AEF is celebrating its 30th year of carrying out its mission through Education, Repopulation , Conservation, & Rehabilitation. Relying solely on private and corporate contributions, it has helped fund and support numerous eagle restoration and protection efforts across the USA.
Today, the AEF operates the largest eagle breeding and education center in the United States. Working closely with Dolly Parton's Dollywood Company, he has established a multi-million dollar United States Eagle Center located in Pigeon Forge, TN (operated by the AEF) and has raised over $17 million dollars to fund the eagle cause.
One special Bald Eagle, Challenger, is often the public face of the American Eagle Foundation. Rescued after falling from a nest in a storm, and raised and fed by humans, Challenger became human-imprinted (and therefore "non-releasable"). The eagle eventually found his way to the AEF where he has lived since 1990. Challenger’s image and name is on a legal tender United States Mint coin, and he was chosen by the U.S. Government to fly during the ceremony announcing the delisting of Bald Eagles from Endangered Species Act protection. He has performed free-flight demonstrations at approximately 350 major sporting events and national conferences/ceremonies during the Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic melodies. He frequently raises the spirits of our military at Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day events, and is a familiar guest on national and regional television shows. He’s been invited and has participated in Inaugural events for President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush.
The AEF cares for 6 non-releasable Bald Eagle breeding pairs who hatch and raise young every spring. These young are released into the wild at 13 weeks of age from a Hack Tower (artificial nesting tower) on Douglas Lake in Tennessee. To date, the AEF has released 145 captive-hatched and translocated Bald Eaglets into the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains. It has supported the release of 100s of Eaglets in other locations.
The AEF cares for a non-releasable collection of approximately 70 permanently disabled birds of prey daily, including about 40 Eagles. The AEF is licensed by state and federal wildlife agencies to care for these birds as well as rehabilitate countless of injured wild Eagles and other raptors.
Al has spent the past 30 years traveling throughout the United States educating tens of millions of people about the need to save and protect the USA’s National Bird.
In 1996, Cecere persuaded President Bill Clinton to proclaim June 20th “American Eagle Day.” Since then, 47 state Governors have proclaimed this special day, and the United States Congress has passed resolutions celebrating American Eagle Day since 2007.
In 2004, Al spearheaded an effort in the U.S. Congress to pass the Bald Eagle Commemorative Coin Act. Sales from the resulting coins issued by the United States Mint coin have raised $7.8 million for support of Bald Eagle programs nationally.
Expressing his thoughts about the Bald Eagle, Cecere once stated: “When I look at the eagle, I see a micro-dot of a glimpse of what the majesty of our own Creator is.” Thanks to his untiring efforts, the Bald Eagle now enjoys a much more promising future.