Star of Cincinnati Zoo’s Wings of Wonder Soars into the Sunset of Retirement 

Posted June 25, 2024

Bald eagle Sam is retiring due to age-related vision issues 

keeper holding sam bald eagle at the reds stadiumSam the bald eagle has given hundreds of thousands of people goose bumps soaring over crowds at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Wings of Wonder and at Great American Ballpark over the years. Sadly, after a recent diagnosis of cataracts, he is retiring. He will make a final appearance at tonight’s Reds game but will be walked out by his long-time trainer, Eddie Annal, during the singing of the National Anthem. 

Photos | video 

“Vision is so important to eagles,” said Annal.  “Sam has flown down from the outfield to the mound at GABP hundreds of times in the past two decades.  Thanks to all that repetition and training, he knows the general direction to go but still needs to be able to see where to land.  After having trouble finding me during practice flights yesterday morning, I suspected something wasn’t right, so we asked the vets to take a look at him.”  

Zoo veterinarian Dr. Mike Wenninger examined Sam and found partial bilateral cataracts and recommended that he retire from flying.  He said that “Sam should be able to function relatively normally but is unlikely to fly confidently. Cataracts generally progress slowly over time. I suspect his recent changes indicate that they have progressed to a point that he is experiencing trouble with depth perception and visual acuity. I suspect things look very cloudy through his lenses. 

Sam’s retirement marks the end of an era for the Cincinnati Zoo and the Reds, where his pre-game flights have been a longstanding tradition. He was the first and only bald eagle to be made into a bobblehead! 

 From the Cincinnati Reds: “The Reds organization has been honored to have Sam the Bald Eagle as a part of our game day tradition since 2004. His magnificent flights during the national anthem have embodied the spirit of our players and fans. We extend our heartfelt wishes to Sam for a peaceful and well-deserved retirement.” 


Sam’s Story:
Sam was found injured by the side of the road in 1999 when he was just months old. He was rehabbed at Michigan State University, but his permanent wing damage could not be repaired, and he could not be re-released into the wild. 
          “We brought him to Cincinnati in the spring of 2003 and started working with him.  He had never been on a glove and we had no idea what his flight ability would be,” said Annal. “The first time he came out of his carrier at the ballpark, he sat on his perch for about 5 minutes probably figuring out how he would get down to me.  Eventually, he glided down to me in center field like a big paper airplane.  He had figured out how to soar down despite his injury.” 


Sam will still make appearances in Wings of Wonder at the Zoo as long as he chooses to participate.  He will not fly but can continue to be an ambassador for his species. Check Zoo Today for more information about when you can see Sam and the other amazing Wings of Wonder birds. 

The Zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Members enjoy early entry starting at 9 a.m.