Staff members at the West Virginia Raptor Rehabilitation Center are mourning the loss of one of their own.
Annie, the red-tailed hawk who had served as the center's unofficial goodwill ambassador since 1987, died Sept. 6. She lived nearly 25 years at the center and, at the time of her death, was nearing the record lifespan for a red-tail kept in captivity.
"Twenty-nine years was the record," said Sheila Armfield, the center's education director. "We estimate that Annie was about 2 years old when she came to us, so that put her very close to the record age for her species."
Annie came to the center on Oct. 29, 1987. She was found in a Charleston backyard with jesses - leather strips used by falconers to control their birds - around her legs. Center officials determined that she had become too dependent on humans to ever be released, so she became one of the center's "education birds."
For a quarter of a century, Annie traveled the state, appearing at an average of 44 public bird-of-prey demonstrations a year.
Armfield estimated that Annie helped to educate an estimated 170,000 West Virginians about the ways birds of prey benefit the state's ecosystem.
Annie's docile nature made her a highly effective education bird. Crowds didn't bother her, and staff members found her cooperative and easy to handle.
"She was the first bird that most of us at the center ever handled," Armfield said. "She helped us to learn more about raptors than we ever could have learned otherwise."
During her 25 years at the center, Annie ate an estimated 2,400 pounds of rats and mice. Armfield said the normally placid bird wasn't shy about asking for food.
"When she was hungry, she let us know about it. She would chirp until she was fed."
Everyone knew the old hawk simply as Annie, but Annie was only a nickname. Her real name was Anastasia, Greek for "free to fly again."
Armfield believes the name finally came true when the bird passed away.
"She will be sorely missed," Armfield wrote in the news release that announced Annie's passing. "But we know she will live forever in our memory. May you fly high on a fair wind, Anastasia."
Reach John McCoy at johnmc...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1231.