Mitch the Afghan Eagle

It is hard to believe that Mitch the Eagle was rescued six years ago.

Here’s latest photo of Mitch. The Navy Seal that rescued this eagle requested an update. He is doing great, living the good life at Bird Paradise.





Mitch the Eagle is here.


After 140 days it’s over Mitch is here.

Upon arrival, Peter put Mitch in with Helga a blind Bald Eagle that Peter has been hand feeding for over 20 years.

wounded Afghan eagle

Afghan eagle

helga-blind eagle
Helga, a blind Eagle that has cataracts. Peter likes to let new arrivals choose their own friends

Peter figured Mitch would be safe with her, but Mitch was attracted to a Bald Eagle named Eddie, who was also shot, Peter put them together and Mitch was quite happy in the new quarters. They got along fine and they seem happy together.
Mitch’s Kennel Came all the way from Afghanistan

This Eagle was well cared for.

There was a blessing of the eagle by Fr. Peter Chepaitis and Sr. Anna Tantsits of
Bethany Ministries part of the Fransiscan Order.

Barbara Chepaitis being interviewed by YNN TV. Barbara was the driving force behind getting Mitch over here to Berkshire Bird Paradise.

This is Eddie, Mitch’s new American friend.

Mitch’s long ordeal is over and I’ll bet it is Paradise living here.

October 12, 2010

I second all the thank yous. Everyone who was on the phones on Thursday and Friday can attest to how well deserved they are. And particularly I want to thank Craig and Scott, for giving us an example of what it means to be a true human – taking care of those who need our help, even when that demands an effort beyond the call of duty, or the boundaries of normal rules. Everyone who heard this story was moved by it and, I think, taught by it as well.

When I saw Mitch on Friday he was lively, hopping about his kennel, peering at me as if demanding an explanation for all the ruckus. I’ll be checking in on him throughout his quarantine period, and will transport him to Berkshire Bird Paradise on or around November 7th. Pete already has his aviary ready, and is very much looking forward to meeting him.

I’m going to pass the thanks on to the Pilots N Paws guys. Just so you know, pilot Jerry Sica has offered his transport to anyone who wants to visit Mitch when he gets to Berkshire Bird Paradise. Please do let me know if you want to take him up on it.

It’s been quite an adventure, and I thank you all for being part of it!

Best Regards,
Barbara Chepaitis


A big Thank you
I just wanted to take a quick second and thank everyone for their
contribution to the extraordinary feat we all pulled off with Mitch.
Starting with Scott Hickman, who cared for Mitch for the first 3 or 4 months
we had him and was really the person behind saving Mitch in the first place.
Barbara Chepaitis, all of the coordination back in the states, between
Berkshire, the USDA, the US Senate, the Fish and Wildlife Service, Pilots
and Paws, and other things I probably don’t know about was a near impossible
task, and none of this would have been possible without you. Senator Schumer
and Caroline Wekselbaum, thank you for helping get everyone on board with
this project. Everyone from the USDA, there were always about 15 of ya’ll
cc’d on every email, but that just goes to show how much everyone from your
organization contributed to making it happen. From the Avian Flu testing to
the quarantine in New York to Dr. Floyd meeting me at the airport, you guys
really came thru. And special thank you to Dr. Cooper from the USDA for your
patience and everything you did. Major Jenkins, Captain Reaves, and SFC
Dezellem for all of veterinary work they did with Mitch while in country.
Captain Reaves helped us out when Mitch was first injured and Major Jenkins
and SFC Dezellem really hooked Mitch up while he did his quarantine in
country (he might of well been staying at a Four Seasons hotel!). Elizabeth
Mader from the State Department for pointing us in the right direction to
the WCS. Peter Bowles and Dave Lawson from the Wildlife Conservation Society
for helping get the export permit from the Ministry of Agriculture and for
all you are still doing in Afghanistan. The many aircrews and pilots from
the Air Force and Air National Guard who helped fly Mitch all over the place
to see vets and get to where he needed to get. John Williams from Pilots N
Paws for flying Mitch from Virginia to New York, especially on such short
notice. My Platoon Commander while I was in country, who I can’t name, who
could have easily said no, but was very supportive of letting my try and do
this and also helped me keep things in perspective in my endeavors. And
lastly Pete Dubacher, Susan, and everyone at Berkshire for taking Mitch in
for the long haul. As Major Jenkins and I found out while we took care of
Mitch, he (or she for all we know) is very easy to grow fond of and I think
he will be nothing short of an awesome resident at your place.
I know the work isn’t over and Mitch isn’t at Berkshire yet, but I’m
confident he will make it there shortly. Literally hundreds of hours of
everyone’s time and energy went into this and I think this is something that
we can all feel really good about. I’m off to hit the beach with my dogs!


The Eagle Has Landed!
Article courtesy of


It took 107 days, and this final week was packed full of logistical nightmares. Mechanical failure in the plane bringing Eagle Mitch to the US from Afghanistan delayed that repeatedly, while we kept trying to arrange transport from Virginia, to Newburgh, NY, where he’ll stay with USDA for a 30 day quarantine period. But we did it, and now I can actually use the phrase, ‘the eagle has landed,’ and mean it. Of course, there’s one more leg to the journey because after his quarantine he’ll go to his home at Berkshire Bird Paradise
He’ll arrive there just about in time for Veteran’s day, appropriately enough, and if you visit their website, your donation can help keep Mitch in ‘ratsicles.’
To get Mitch into his new digs, I had the help of the amazing Pilots N Paws where regular men and women volunteer to be heroes for animals that need rescue, and the people who are trying to rescue them. Pilot Jerry Sica responded to my call right away, and stayed with us through many shifts of schedule. Then, like a real hero, when the schedule shifted to a time he couldn’t make, he helped me find someone who could get the job done.
John Williams, also part of Pilots N Paws, delayed his motorcycle vacation to get up way too early and be in Norfolk at 6 am.
At 5 am, when I called down to Norfolk for a status update, they were a go for NY. And for the first time, I got to actually speak with the Navy SEAL who cared for Mitch.
“I just had to hear your voice,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. “We’ve had lots of emails, but no talk.”
Our conversation was less than a minute, but I realized how worried I’d been for him as well as Mitch, and how very much I wanted this to turn out well for all concerned.
When I left my house, the sky was dark and full of stars. By the time I got to the Berkshire Spur the sky was getting rosy, and mist curled over the land, illuminated and pearly in the dawn. Yeah. A good day.
At the aviation terminal in Newburgh, I got to see the plane touch down, and ran out to help John and his friend C.M. Funk unload the crate that held Eagle Mitch.
I could hear him hopping around, and took a peek in. He stared back at me, not at all worried or confused. Maybe a little truculent, as if he wanted to know why dinner was delayed. “You’re a very handsome bird,” I told him, which was redundant. Clearly, he already knew that.
The ride home was filled with light. Sunlight, after days of rain. The light of leaves turning gold and orange and brilliant yellow. The lightness of flight, possible only when you’ve hollowed out your bones through hard and good work.
I have a million thank yous to say, and will say them all in the next few weeks. For now, to all those who helped, those who cheered, those who took part in any way, you know who you are, and I am grateful to you.
Of course, I’ll be writing a book about it all, and I’d love to hear from you. This story had a lot of moving parts for me, some quite complex, but I’m curious to know what it meant to you, why it mattered, what your thoughts are. Please do leave a message on my guestbook letting me know.
Below are some photos from the day.
Guestbook for>>

Pilots N Paws is a group of volunteer pilots who transport rescue animals where they need to go. I’m glad they had a beautiful day to fly.

If you read my book FEATHERS OF HOPE, you know that I’ve always wanted to see a bird I rescued fly. I guess this is one way of doing it.

mitch new


It’s not the greatest photo in the world, but the smile is one of my happiest. I kept seeing the Navy Seal who cared for Mitch, running with his dogs on the beach, home at last, after saving an eagle.

Big Thanks to Senator Schumer and Constituent Liaison Caroline Wekselbaum!

fightingcock-rescue (2)


Navy Seals, Stationed in Afghanistan, Rescued And Cared for Mitch the Eagle after He was Harmed

Barbara Chepaitis, Author and Advocate, and Schumer Cut Through Red Tape to Secure Safe Passage to America for Mitch

Schumer Weighed in With Personal Letter and Helped Secure Exemption to Blanket Ban on Imported Birds

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that Mitch, an eagle rescued and cared for by Navy Seals in Afghanistan, is on his way to a bird sanctuary in the Capital Region. After rescuing Mitch, a Steppe Eagle, the Navy Seals contacted Pete Dubacher, owner of Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburg NY, seeking his help. Barbara Chepaitis, author of Feathers of Hope, a book about the bird sanctuary, immediately went to Senator Schumer’s office in an effort to secure Mitch’s passage to the United States.
“We hit some serious obstacles while trying to help these young men rescue their eagle, but I knew Senator Schumer would support their efforts,” Ms. Chepaitis said. “We absolutely could not have done this without him.”
Schumer was able to cut through the red tape and expedite Fish and Wildlife paperwork along with the necessary health testing for Mitch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), so the eagle can transition to a permanent home at Berkshire Bird Paradise. He will arrive in the United States the first week in October.

“This is a great story about our caring soldiers and generous New Yorkers, I was happy to help give this effort a last boost and get Mitch here,.” Schumer said. “Some regulations at the USDA almost held this up but at the end of the day we were able to cut through the red tape and give Mitch a home right here in our backyard.”

During a routine patrol, the Navy Seals saw Mitch being shot on a rifle range. The Seals were able to rescue the eagle and tend its wounds, ensuring its survival. The service members cared for this Steppe Eagle, whom they named ‘Mitch,’ building him a cage and feeding him as he healed. They soon discovered that Mitch’s wing was permanently disabled, and through some research learned about the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburg NY where director Pete Dubacher offers haven to birds from around the world, including many permanently injured eagles.
“I was in service during the Vietnam war,” Dubacher said, “and I started rescuing birds at that time, so I know how tough it is for these young men to do what they did. Senator Schumer really stepped up to the plate for them, and for Mitch. As a veteran, I can’t thank him enough.”

A current ban on the import of avian species from Afghanistan due to threat of Avian flu almost prevented the possibility of bringing Mitch to safe haven. Schumer, through a personal letter, made it possible for Mitch to receive a one-time exemption once it was assured that he was disease-free.
“Of course, we all want to preserve the health laws, but we also knew that Mitch was a special case, destined for a sanctuary rather than public market. Senator Schumer’s letter made that clear, which meant those at the USDA who wanted to help were able to move forward,” Ms. Chepaitis said. “Everyone involved is very excited at being able to see this to a happy conclusion.”

Mitch is currently slated to come to the U.S. the first week in October, where he will undergo precautionary tests until he is transferred to the Berkshire Bird Paradise, where the thousands of schoolchildren who visit every year will have the opportunity to hear a very special story, of a very special eagle.

The text of Schumer’s letter is below:

August 3, 2010

Cindy Smith
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Re: Steppe Eagle from Afghanistan

Dear Ms. Smith:

Last month, my constituents Barbara Chepaitis and Pete Dubacher told me the incredible story of Navy SEALS stationed in Afghanistan who had rescued and were caring for a wounded Steppe Eagle. The SEALS sought the assistance of Mr. Dubacher of Berkshire Bird Paradise bird sanctuary in upstate New York to find a permanent home for this wounded bird, who had been shot. With the help of my office and the persistent efforts of Ms. Chepaitis and Mr. Dubacher, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an import permit and the Afghan Government has issued an export permit for the eagle.

Unfortunately, there is currently a ban on the import of avian species from Afghanistan, due to the threat of avian flu. My constituents are seeking a waiver of the ban on the import for this particular bird. I would urge you to issue this waiver, after thoroughly evaluating the bird to ensure that it is disease-free, that it undergoes the required quarantine and poses no threat to US species. I strongly believe that this bird merits special consideration based on the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his rescue by US Navy SEALS. This unusual story has received media attention and serves as an inspirational reminder of the heroism of US Armed Forces deployed around the world.

I know I can count on your cooperation in reviewing this matter and advising me of your findings as expeditiously as possible. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Caroline Wekselbaum in my New York City Office at (212) 486-4430. Thank you in advance for your cooperation and attention to this matter.


Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator

Mitch and Eddie


News update August 1, 2010

Albany Times Union – 7-29-2010
Red Tape snarls Eagle’s rebound Troop unit keeps trying to get bird from Afghanistan to Grafton sanctuary.
By Paul Grondahl
Staff writer

Grafton – An eagle shot by an Afghan soldier that is being nursed back to health by elite U.S. fighters has hit new bureaucratic snags as the soldiers labor to get the bird sent to a Rensselaer County bird sanctuary for long-term rehabilitation.
Since the story of the eagle was published July 1 in the Times Union, it’s been one step forward and two steps backward as boosters on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as a U.S senator, try to negotiate a thicket of U.S regulations and multiple federal agencies.
“I applaud the effort of the soldiers and the compassion they’re showing for the eagle even they’re in harm’s way themselves,” said Peter Dubacher, who runs the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Grafton. He has agreed to take the eagle, who will likely never fly again after its wing was shattered by a bullet.
Dubacher, who has cared for more than 20 wounded eagles in the past 30 years, was moved by the plight of the eagle and the bird as a symbol of American freedom and can-do spirit.
“These guys are trying to do something positive in a dangerous war zone,” Dubacher said, “We have to keep working through the obstacles and roll with the punches until we find the right person in power who can make it happen.”
With the help of a Wildlife Conservation Society staffer in Afghanistan , the required bird export permit was secured from Afghan government officials. U.S. Fish & Wildlife authorities were helping to expedite the complete process but a new obstacle emerged: the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s concern about avian flu.
“It would be easier to move those mountains I’m looking at right now than to get that eagle here,” said Barbara Chepaitis of Altamont, currently teaching creative writing at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, the foothills of the Rockies.
Chepaitis, a catalyst behind the stalled eagle mission, is the author of “Feathers of Hope,” a book about Dubacher and the bird sanctuary recently published by SUNY Press. She has aides of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, working on trying to unravel the red tape and she has been in contact with officials from USDA, Fish & Wildlife and the White House.
The USDA has a ban on any bird imported from Afghanistan due to fears of avian flue. USDA officials rebuffed Chepaitis’ efforts to pay for testing and to agree to a mandatory quarantine period. They suggest shipping the bird to a foreign country that does not have an Afghan bird ban, waiting 90 days until the bird establishes residency and applying for an import permit from the USDA.
“I’ve been arguing all along that this is a rescue going to a sanctuary and not a bird import going into the general population, so different rules should apply,”
The steppe eagle, a large bird of prey common in Afghanistan, was shot last month of a rifle range at in Afghanistan. Navy SEALs were training Afghan soldiers when the eagle landed on the rifle range. An afghan soldier shot and hit the bird, said the Navy SEAL.
The soldiers and others in his unit – which also includes Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and former Army Special Forces now employed as military contractors – gathered up the bird, bandaged its shattered wing, built a cage and helped with the eagles’ convalescence.
The soldiers named the eagle Mitch, after a snake in the raunchy comedy movie “Road Trip.” They feed it chicken and make do with limited supplies.
Dubacher told them how to install carpet in the cage and leave a bowl of water in which the eagle will soak its feet to counter sores and inflammation.
“While I wish Mitch wasn’t in this situation, it is nice to have something to take care of like this. The soldier wrote in an e-mail. “He kind of takes the edge off everything.”
The soldier and his unit are scheduled to return to the U.S. in about a month.
“We just hope that the bureaucratic problems don’t get in the way of doing the right thing and getting this eagle to a better place.” He wrote.


July 14, 2010
Afghan Eagle’s rehab grounded

By Paul Grondahl – staff writer – Albany Times Union

wounded Afghan eagle

Afghan eagle

Grafton – An eagle wounded in the wing by a bullet in Afghanistan is being nursed back to health by elite U.S fighters, despite limited supplies and the daily dangers they face in the war-torn country.

But because of an international treaty covering endangered species and U.S. wildlife regulations, their efforts to have the injured eagle sent to a bird sanctuary is Rensselaer County has hit a bureaucratic snag.

“I fear he will be killed soon unless rescued,” Special Warfare Operator 1st Class _______ of the Navy SEALs write in an email from Camp ——— in Afghanistan. “He tires to fly, cut cannot get off the ground. Its living conditions are the best with what we have, but not great. It is a cage the size of a small walk-in-closet with rocks on the bottom and a shelf with a ramp”

White wrote seeking the assistance of Peter Dubacher, who runs Berkshire Bird Paradise
in Grafton, NY and who has taken in 20 wounded eagles over the past three decades. White found Dubacher’s website and sent an urgent request for help since he fears for the eagles’ fate once his unit returns to the U.S. in about two months.

“I doubt that the crew relieving us will want to put the effort into caring for it and we do not have the authority or capability to bring it back with us,” White wrote.

I would be honored to help the eagle because I am so proud of the bravery of our soldiers who are willing to stick their necks out for a bird,” said Dubacher, a former Army cook who served in the late 1960s in Panama, where he bought parrots being sold as pets in the vegetable stands of Panama City and set them free.

“Unfortunately, it’s become sort of a mission impossible to get the eagle out of Afghanistan because of all the bureaucracy. I told the boys over there not to get their hopes up to high,” Dubacher said.

Based on a photo of the wounded bird White e-mailed, Dubacher identified it as a steepe eagle, a large bird of prey common in Afghanistan, a migratory bird that traverses a wide habitat of deserts, steppes and savannahs form Africa to India and all across Central Asia and Europe.

“It’s a dull, brownish color and not very pretty to look at,” Dubacher said. “it’s not in the same class as our bald eagle, but the effort and care the soldiers put into saving the bird is remarkable.”
The stepped eagle was shot earlier this month on a rifle range, where Navy SEALs were training Afghan soldiers. According to White, the afghan soldier had one bullet left in his rifle, the eagle landed out on the rifle range “and he decided to take a shot at it, and unfortunately hit it.”

The SEALs gather up the battered, bloody bird, bandaged its wing and helped it convalesce.

After getting the e-mail from Afghanistan, Dubacher enlisted help from Barbara Chepaitis of Altamont, an author and creative writing teacher who has just published with SUNY Press a book about Dubacher and his bird sanctuary titled. “Feathers of Hope.” It is being shipped to bookstores this week.

Chepaitis contacted the office on Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY and an aide checked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where officials were not optimistic about bringing the eagle stateside.

“It ripped my heart out when I found out we can’t help these soldiers in a dangerous situation who just want to help a wounded bird. It’s almost as if the eagle has become a little piece of their soul.” Said Chepaitis, whose book explores connections between humans and birds.

Chepaitis opens her book with an Emily Dickinson poem: “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul:/And sings the tune without the words,/And never stops at all…”

Tom Alvarez, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Office’s Northeast regional office, outlines a litany of regulations that are aligned against bringing the steppe eagle to Rensselaer County.

For starters, a treaty signed at the Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species, CITES, comes into play. It regulates endangered species, including the steppe eagle, which is listed as a bird of “least concern” with an estimated population worldwide of 10,000 birds. The treaty requires that a permit for export is issued from Afghanistan, where steppe eagles are prized for hunting among falconry devotees. It’s unlikely the Afghanistan government would make such a permit request a priority while war is raging, Alvarez said.

To be allowed to enter the U.S. in addition to the CITES export permit form the host country, the eagle needs a U.S. wildlife conservation act permit and an appendix 2 permit. Such permits take at least 90 days to process, Alverez said. And there are concerns about parasite or diseases the bird may carry.
“U.S. troops have to follow the rules like everyone else,” Alvarez said. “This isn’t going to be easy, but there are exceptions made.”

Alvarez said Schumer’s aides were working with officials in the U.S. Wildlife’s legislative affairs office to try to streamline the process.

Meanwhile, Dubacher, who has manged to rescue and rehabilitate numerous eagles given up as lost causes – one poisoned by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, another mauled by a grizzly bear – is ready to give the Afghanistan eagle a good home.

“Pete has devoted his life to saving birds and he can guarantee that the eagle will have a safe haven for the rest of its life.” Chepaitis said. “That eagle is not a terrorist. We should grant it political asylum.”


Mitch the Eagle

News update July 3, 2010

To Save an Eagle
by Barbara Chepaitis

If you were a soldier in the Vietnam war, would you spend your money and your time setting captive birds free? If you were serving in Afghanistan, would you stop to save a bird that was shot? Pete Dubacher did when he was in service in the Vietnam era. Two US servicemen in Afghanistan did the same just a few weeks ago. Now they need your help.

For 35 years Pete has been running Berkshire Bird Paradise, a sanctuary for more than 1200 birds, many of which are permanently disabled. His residents include 18 disabled eagles, which breed and raise young that are later released into the wild. When Pete was in service in Panama, he saw caged birds caught from the rainforest for sale in the markets. Feeling bad for both the people and the birds, he chose a solution that’s typical of him. He bought the birds and set them free.

Because of that experience, he very much wants to help two young servicemen stationed in Afghanistan who rescued an eagle after it was shot. In spite of difficult conditions, these young men have continued to care for the bird, building it a cage, feeding it, doing whatever they can to keep it alive. But it’s clear that the bird will never fly again, and they’re worried that it won’t survive beyond their deployment. They asked Pete if he’d take it in, and help them get it to the US.

Yes, and yes. Of course he will. However, that’s where the hard part begins. Pete knows how difficult it can be to bring a bird into the US, so he called me, asking for my help. I’m author of the book Feathers of Hope, which is about Berkshire Bird Paradise and the human connection with birds, and I’m a long-time admirer of his work. Knowing that we’d need political and media support, I called Senator Schumer’s office, and found a young woman who is very eager to expedite this. She contacted Federal Fish and Wildlife, whose first response was ‘no.’ You can’t ‘import’ eagles into the US. Not under any circumstances, because they’re – um – protected.

I contended that we’re rescuing, not importing, and that rescue is protection, but fortunately we don’t have to wend our way down that slippery slope. As it turns out the bird is a Steppe eagle rather than a golden or bald, and so it falls under different rules and regs. Caroline at Senator Schumer’s has found some very nice people at Fish and Wildlife, and we’re trying to get through the paperwork and permits as quickly as possible, because the bird is beginning to develop some problems and we don’t want it to die of red tape.

As we wait, we’re seeking help in two different ways. Send emails to Fish and Wildlife in support of Eagle Mitch, wounded in the war and waiting to come home. Encourage them in their fine work of speeding this along. Or email the White House to do the same. Or if you know anyone in the media who would be interested in this story, let them know as well, because media coverage will grease the wheels of transport. And speaking of transport, we might need that as well. . . .

In my book I talk about how we long to save what’s wild because that also honors what is wild and free in ourselves. Even to try to save a bird is, in many ways, to save your soul. I want to honor what’s wild and free in these boys, and in this eagle. The young men did a most admirable, compassionate, and human thing in a difficult situation. My goal is to see that they get exactly what they want as their reward.


News update June 30, 2010

US Soldiers Save a wounded Eagle in Afghanistan

Hello, I am active duty in the military and currently on deployment in Afghanistan. The reason I am writing you concerns and injured Eagle that our camp has in our possession that I fear will be killed soon unless rescued.

The eagle was shot by an Afghan soldier at a range one day. I was not there at the time, but apparently he had one bullet left in his rifle and the eagle landed down range and he decided to take a shot at it, and unfortunately hit it. It was hit in it’s wing and was not able to fly. We (the Americans on this camp) took it in and nursed it back to health, but I don’t think it will not fly again. I’m not medically qualified in anyway, but it’s bandages are off now and when we let it out of it’s cage we built for him, he tries to fly, but cannot get off the ground.

It’s living conditions are the best with what we have, but not great. It is a cage the size of a small walk in closet with rocks on the bottom and a shelf with a ramp.

Like I said before, I fear that if it is not rescued out of this place, it will not live much longer. We redeploy back to the states in about 3 months and I doubt that the crew relieving us will want to put the effort into caring for it and we do not have the authority or capability to bring it back with us.

Can you help?

Thank you.



This is the Eagle that was shot.

Mitch the Eagle