American Eagle Foundation

Through a deeply passionate commitment to conservation and educational outreach, the American Eagle Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, is dedicated to inspiring the global community to guard and protect the Bald Eagle and all birds of prey.

The Foundation’s headquarters are located in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in partnership with the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, TN.

In the Beginning

In 1985, the American Eagle Foundation began as a dream from the kitchen table of Al Cecere, originally funded by coin containers held by volunteers in front of various Walmart stores located in Nashville, TN.

Cecere had come across an Associated Press article photo depicting 23 dead Bald Eagles that had been shot by poachers in the Dakotas. After finding out that Bald Eagles were on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states, Cecere made the decision to dedicate his life and career to restoring the Bald Eagle to America’s lands, skies and waterways, and to build a “Nest-Egg” for their future care and protection.

Partnership with Dollywood

In 1990, the AEF entered into a multi-year corporate partnership with the Dollywood Company and cooperated with them to design and develop the United States Eagle Center at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This facility would be used to conduct public environmental education, daily care of non-releasable birds of prey, raptor rehabilitation, and a Bald Eagle breeding/release program.

Dolly Parton, Bob Hope, Al CecereIn April 1991, Dolly Parton, Al Cecere, and Bob Hope participated in the Grand Opening Ceremony for Eagle Mountain Sanctuary by releasing a Bald Eagle into the habitat.

Today, the AEF has grown into an internationally recognized Bald Eagle conservation organization.

For the complete background story, please read our AEF and Bald Eagle Timeline.


AEF Eagle Mountain SanctuaryAEF Eagle Mountain Sanctuary

Disabled, non-releasable Bald Eagles residing in AEF’s Eagle Mountain Sanctuary
at Dollywood theme park.
Photo by Gena Flanigan

Wings of America at DollywoodWings of America at Dollywood

American Eagle Foundation’s Wings of America Birds of Prey Show and Raptor Exhibit
at Dollywood theme park.
Photo by John Douglas Prickett

Challenger lands on the glove of Laura Sterbens NFL Football game.

Hack Tower at AEFHack Tower at AEF

Sibling Bald Eagles born in captivity take their first flights into the wild from AEF’s Hack Tower
on Douglas Lake, Tennessee.
Photo by John Douglas Prickett

AEF EducationAEF Education

AEF resident raptors enjoy sunlight in the weathering yard as AEF staff educate visitors.

Rehabbed eagle releaseRehabbed eagle release

A rehabilitated juvenile Bald Eagle is released into the wild.


The American Eagle Foundation is dedicated to educating the public about Bald Eagles, birds of prey, and the importance of preserving these species for future generations.

The AEF’s educational outreach ranges from the Wings of America Birds-of-Prey show at Dollywood, to educational programs at schools & veteran facilities across the United States, to appearances at professional and collegiate sporting events, conventions, trade shows and special events throughout the country. The organization has successfully performed over 25,000 “free-flight” birds of prey education programs since 1991 using non-releasable trained birds

Dollywood’s relationship with the AEF and its commitment to helping Eagles has spanned 25 years and still continues. The AEF’s Wings of America Bird of Prey show and Eagle Mountain Sanctuary has educated tens of millions of visitors from around the world about birds of prey and the importance of protecting and conserving them.

Since 1995, the AEF’s famous non-releasable, trained free-flying Bald Eagle “Challenger” has made over 350 educational free-flight performances across the US and hundreds of educational school programs and other appearances.

The AEF conduct these programs and flights with the licensed permission of the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service and various State fish and wildlife agencies.

The AEF’s Educational Bald Eagle Nest Cam Program has grown exponentially since its inception. These LIVE high-definition nest cams featuring captive and wild Bald Eagle nests in Tennessee, Florida, and Washington D.C.  have captivated millions of viewers from around the globe.


Since 1992, the AEF’s Captive-Breeding and Hacking programs have resulted in 178 young Bald Eagles being set free into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee from an artificial nesting tower. Most of these Eaglets have come from the AEF’s non-releasable Bald Eagle breeding pairs (who chose each other as mates in captivity), while the others have been transferred to the AEF from zoos, raptor facilities, and wild nests from around the country. The AEF has also released 11 Golden Eaglets into the wild, most of which were hatched by the AEF’s non-releasable Golden Eagle breeding pair.


The AEF cares for over 70 non-releasable raptors and other birds daily, including the world’s largest collection of non-releasable Bald Eagles who reside in Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. These birds are non-releasable due to permanent physical disabilities or human imprinting/socialization.

The AEF supports Bald Eagle conservation around the country by issuing nearly $100,000 in Bald Eagle Grants annually. Challenger the Bald Eagle has been a catalyst for spreading awareness about Bald Eagle conservation. Traveling coast to coast, Challenger inspires millions of Americans through live news broadcasts and free-flight demonstrations and appearances at major league sporting events, conventions, and schools.


The AEF rehabilitates injured Bald Eagles and other birds of prey and releases them back into the wild. If their injuries are beyond repair, they are given a permanent home at the AEF or another raptor facility.


Our activities and programs are recognized and accredited by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies, Independent Charities of America, Animal Charities of America, Charity Navigator, and many more. Learn more..