Doris Mager inspired generations of schoolchildren in the South to respect eagles, owls and other raptors.
Now the 90-year-old is carrying on her work in the Tri-Cities after moving across the country to be closer to family.
A stalwart of the Florida Audubon Society and later founder of her own raptor-centered nonprofit, Mager’s popularity was cemented in 1986 when, to celebrate her 60th birthday, she bicycled across the United States.
At the end of her 2,800-plus-mile trek, which raised money and awareness for raptor causes, she was invited to the Florida capital to meet with the Sunshine State’s then-governor, Bob Graham.
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Graham dubbed her “Florida’s Eagle Lady” and the moniker stuck, even after she moved to the mountains outside Asheville, N.C.
Thirty years later, Mager is still the “Eagle Lady” and is still appearing in libraries and schools. Instead of an eagle, though, she’s accompanied by a great horned owl named E.T.
She moved to Kennewick last spring, somewhat reluctantly. She’s active and in strong health, but said she realized it was time to live closer to her son, Bill Mager, when she entered her 10th decade.
She and E.T. swapped their beloved mountain home in North Carolina for one a half-block from her son and daughter-in-law.
The South’s loss is the Mid-Columbia’s gain. After a few lonely months, Mager connected with Mid-Columbia Libraries, which booked her and E.T. for raptor-related presentations at its 12 branches.
Her next two presentations are at 2 p.m. Aug. 23 at the Basin City library and 11 a.m. Aug. 25 at the west Pasco branch.
Now that she and E.T. are back to work, she’s rediscovered her sense of purpose: educating people about the strengths and vulnerabilities of birds of prey.
Mager said raptors are misunderstood and often the target of collectors and hunters. She loves visiting schools and libraries to teach children about the powerful creatures and the laws that protect them. It’s illegal to collect raptors without permits, and it’s illegal to shoot them, she said.
Her work with raptors began innocently enough in 1963. She was managing a store for the Audubon Society’s Birds of Prey Center when someone brought in an injured red-tailed hawk. Rehabilitation was a little-understood science, but Mager took the bird home, nursed it back to health and then set it free.
Two years later, she rescued a bald eagle that had been shot through the wing. The eagle, named Hallie, would never fly again but spent decades with Mager, thrilling audiences.
E.T came into her life shortly after she left the Florida Audubon Society to become director of raptor research and education at the Florida Conservation Foundation. A year later, she would establish the nonprofit Save Our American Raptors, or SOAR, which she still directs.
E.T. was a tiny ball of gray fuzz when Mager first encountered her at a meeting of the Bald Eagle Recovery Team in the Florida Everglades. The baby bird had been taken from a collector who may have stolen it from a nest. The bird had imprinted on humans, so it couldn’t be released.
Mager agreed to take the bird, adding it to a small menagerie that included a golden eagle named “RJ”.
She remembers pausing the eagle meeting and setting the baby bird on a biologist’s knee. She insisted that the group take a moment to choose a name. It chose “E.T.” for the movie that was dominating the box office at the time. Mager didn’t much care for the name “Extra Terrestrial” so she decided it stood for “Extra Terrific”.
Like Mager, E.T. is advancing in years, and there are plans to be made.
In between library appearances, she dashed back to Florida to meet with the board of her nonprofit to discuss what will happen to the bird if she predeceases it. E.T. will go live with a couple who work with rescued birds of prey.
Mager says she and E.T. will keep giving presentations as long as they both live. And now that she’s settled in the Tri-Cities, she’s eager to investigate the local wildlife scene.
“I know you have a lot of owls here,” she said.