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Columbia, a National Eagle Center "ambassador" to the visiting public in Wabasha and across Minnesota for two decades, was euthanized Jan. 16 after her health declined.

After observing unusual behaviors, handlers transported Columbia Jan. 8 for an exam at The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. She was diagnosed with atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in the arteries that interferes with blood flow.

"Her condition deteriorated quite rapidly, and she was no longer able to stand up and had lost motor function. Not wanting to prolong any suffering, our team in consultation with her vets decided to humanely euthanize her," the center said on its Facebook page.

Reaction to the news was heavy on social media. Center marketing manager Ed Hahn told the Star Tribune that the bald eagle likely had encountered hundreds of thousands of people over the years between center visitors and classroom programs and other outreach events. The center draws 60,000-70,000 people annually.

Columbia was 22, considered a full life for a bald eagle. Her back story makes her longevity more impressive, Hahn said.

The bird arrived at the center in 2003 after her rescue two years earlier in northern Wisconsin. She was found with a wing injury after getting struck by a vehicle and, later, severe lead poisoning that led to brain damage.

"She probably had no right to live a full life," Hahn said. "She really did defy all odds."

Columbia's long tenure was second behind Angel, a bald eagle that arrived at the center in 2000. She also was rescued in northern Wisconsin, after falling from a nest, breaking a wing and surviving on fish scraps from nearby heron nests, Hahn said.

Yet Columbia (one of six birds at the center, including a redtailed hawk) was distinct. Dark head feathers behind her eyes were her trademark. Those markings and her calm, regal way, Hahn said: "Even though she had challenges and disabilities, she still held herself up high."