There were a half of million of these magnificent predators in 1700, by the 1960’s we were down to a mere 500 pairs in the lower 48 states and Bald Eagles were declared an Endangered Species. Rachel Carson warned in her landmark book, Silent Spring, that we would soon have to chose another national symbol. But the banning of DDT, strong legal protection, active management by government and private groups especially captive rearing and release helped the Bald eagle recover from the very brink of extinction.
These eagles aren’t really bald. Bald is an old English word that originally meant white. As fully mature adults their heads and tails are a brilliant white, unmistakable field marks. Even the ornithologically challenged can identify these birds. We have both the golden and the bald eagle in the US but the bald found nowhere else in the world but in North America.
In California the easiest and guaranteed best place to see Bald Eagles is in the Klamath Basin, way up north on the border with Oregon. There are over 500 that over-winter, coming down from Canada and Alaska for the easy eating of ducks and fish in the Tule and Klamath wetlands. Every Presidents Day in February is the Bald Eagle conference in Klamath Falls. A bit closer is Lake San Antonio in Monterey County that has the largest over wintering population of balds in central California.
But to see the eagles this summer head up to Shasta Lake. There are 18 breeding pairs, double the population from 20 years ago. This is the only place in our state to see the birds year round. They are monogamous, faithful, long lived and build giant nests that can span 10 feet and weigh several tons! You can see why large mature trees are critical to their survival. They may have as many as four young so there could be over a hundred bald eagles flying around Shasta right now!
We have all heard the story that Ben Franklin wanted the turkey for our national bird because he thought the eagle of bad moral character. But the second Continental Congress thought otherwise and chose a powerful bird that preys on the weak and steals food from lesser predators. But the eagle has also become a living symbol for our freedom, spirit and pursuit of excellence. This Fourth of July let us ponder these conflicting images of our country.
This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.