The female eagle, named Sequoia, had been tree-sitting over the weekend in the Suburban Park area of Menlo Park and in North Fair Oaks neighborhood, having flown away during an outing at Byxbee Park at the eastern end of Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto.
About every three years or so, Sequoia goes on an unexpected three-day excursion, said Aikin, executive director of the Junior Museum and Zoo. But because she vacations without the benefit of her handlers being there, food and water become hard to find.
With the aid of a tracking device, the staff knew where Sequoia was and had to wait until she was ready to return.
What persuaded Sequoia to finally come down from her perch Monday were hunger and thirst, some prompting by a handler using hand gestures and a whistle, and the tossing of a dead quail in such a way that she could see it, Aikin said.
Sequoia, "ate a quail and a mouse and looked at us like we were all to blame," he said, referring to an eagle's practice of making its feathers stand out to show that it's irritated. But her irritation quickly faded.
"She just sat calmly on the (gloved) fist and was happy to be back," Aikin said.
When they returned her to her enclosure in Palo Alto, "she jumped right down into her bathtub and drank heartily," Aikin said.
Sequoia, who was not raised in the wild, cannot feed herself. Her hunting skills are also hampered by damaged tail feathers, the result of a gunshot wound when she was young.
"I've never known her to kill anything," Aikin said.
The soon-to-be 25-year-old eagle has been cared for at the Palo Alto zoo for the past six months. Before that, she lived at the San Francisco Zoo, where she had been since she was 6 months old. Aikin tended to her there as well, he said.
Technically, Sequoia is the property of the U.S. government, as are all bald eagles.
With a wingspan of about 7 feet, she is capable of extended flight — she once flew to Ano Nuevo State Park in Pescadero from San Francisco. These days, she is released on weekend days at around 2 p.m. and on weekdays at 4 p.m. Her schedule can be found on Facebook and the zoo's website, Aikin said.
Bald eagles are flighty and high-strung, and something as innocent as a colorful piece of clothing can be alienating.
While there is inherent risk in letting her loose, the burden is worth the cost, Aikin said.
"She likes it, we like it, and we think it's a great way to see a bald eagle," he said. "It's so spectacular to see her fly."