A bald eagle surprised fellow travelers as it was spotted being taken through a TSA checkpoint at Charlotte Douglas International Airport this week.
Clark the eagle, who lives with the World Bird Sanctuary, “decided to give his wings a break and fly commercial,” TSA Southeast tweeted Thursday. The airline flying Clark notified TSA, and the agency was able to screen the eagle and his handler, TSA added.
“Clark is trained to spread his wings, and even showed off a bit during screening,” TSA said.
One video of Clark showed him flapping his wings while waiting to pass through security with his handler.
Clark was born at the World Bird Sanctuary in 2002, when the Missouri-based organization was breeding the then-endangered bald eagles for release into the wild. Clark’s siblings were released, but he hatched with scale deformities on his feet that made him vulnerable to frostbite or loss of toes in the winter months. Therefore, he could not be released.
Instead, Clark began flight training at a young age, and is now an ambassador for the sanctuary, according to the organization. In his role, he flies at different venues and events across the U.S., including St. Louis Cardinals’ games and a Chicago Bears game.
American bald eagles, once on the brink of extinction, have pleasantly surprised experts — their population has quadrupled in size since 2009. In 1963, there were just 417 known bald eagle nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported. But the United States’ beloved national symbol is now thriving, with more than 71,400 nesting pairs.
However, another study released this year showed bald eagles’ population size is being threatened by lead poisoning.
“Even though the population seems like it’s recovered, some perturbation could come along that could cause eagles to decline again,” said Krysten Schuler, assistant research professor in the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health at Cornell University and senior author on the study.