ST. PETERSBURG — "Free Spirit" wasn't your typical bird.
She was big, almost 13 pounds.
She was engaging and sassy, making sure to leave a mound of feathers behind after eating her favorite meal (quail).
She couldn't fly very well, but her wingspan — nearly 7 feet — was still impressive.
And whenever someone got close, she greeted whoever it was with her special squeaky call.
"She was just one of a kind," said Gabe Vargo, 68, a senior volunteer at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.
Spirit, as she was called, an American bald eagle who was a longtime fixture at the preserve, died about 1:30 p.m. Saturday. She was 27 years old.
Officials and volunteers aren't sure what caused her death.
They found her unresponsive in her cage a few days ago. She had broken her leg about two weeks before that.
"It was very sudden," said veterinarian Janine Cianciolo. "Everything was going so well. Whatever went wrong looks like it didn't have to do with the leg."
Spirit had been in captivity for most of her life. When she was 4, a rattlesnake bit her wing. Because of the venom, she lost the tip.
A center in Maitland rehabilitated her, and for the next 12 to 14 years she lived at Sunken Gardens. Then in 2001, she was moved to Boyd Hill.
Because Spirit was already considered middle-aged at the time, volunteers didn't want to put her through the stress of training.
So she remained as an educational display bird, greeting the public from her enclosure. "She was very outgoing," Vargo said.
On Feb. 9, Spirit's toe got caught in her perch. She fell over, breaking her leg. Surgery followed, and eventually she was sent back to the preserve to heal.
But on Thursday, volunteers found her unresponsive.
At 4 a.m. Saturday, she had a mild seizure.
"She just continued to go downhill," Vargo said.
Spirit's absence was immediately noticed at the preserve, Vargo said. Everyone wanted to know what happened and when she would be back.
Volunteers plan to put up a notice letting people know of her death, Vargo said.
Reach Kameel Stanley at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.