Ben Franklin wasn’t a fan of the bald eagle; he called them “rank cowards” and believed the eagle to be “a bird of bad moral character.” Franklin thought, comparatively, that the turkey would be a better Seal for our nation. While I enjoy the goofy, bobbing, gobbling exploits of the American Turkey as much as the next man, I’m glad Ben’s contemporaries chose the Bald Eagle.
Most images I see of them — on bumper stickers, cable news networks, plaster gas station figurines — induce a laugh, a cringe or a sigh. Of course, the eagle can’t help it that we’ve reduced its image to a corny spectacle (unfortunately, bird law doesn’t allow for them to sue for improper use of their likeness). Alas.
But Franklin’s views and our co-opting aside, eagles remain impressive animals to behold. Almost as impressive is that we can still see them in the wild. During the first 6 decades of the 20th century, the bald eagle’s population plummeted. Despite being engraved on our quarter, appearing on all things patriotic and legal protection, Americans shot them out of the sky (along with other raptors) at a feverish clip. However, the most substantial declines were probably due to pesticides, like the infamous DDT, banned in 1972.
Populations have since rebounded and the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1995. While they still face an array of threats, their story is good news in a field that needs it.
During my Canoe50 Campaign of 2017, I knew I’d see some in states like Colorado, Alaska and Maine. But, I also saw eagles in places I didn’t expect, like Delaware and Nebraska. By the end of my trip, I’d spotted wild bald eagles in 20 of the 50 states — a figure that would have been extremely unlikely, if not impossible, if I’d taken the same trip in 1967.
There were many places (like Florida and Oregon) where I didn’t see them, but easily could have. So, this is far from scientific. Nevertheless, my chance encounters give a little insight into the conservation success and incredible rebound of America’s sexiest bird (voted on by the Audubon Society for a third year in a row (okay, I made that up, but it’s an idea)). Below — the states where I saw eagles.
See this Audubon link for a more on eagle stats and history. More importantly, go out and spot one for yourself. I promise it will beat the gas station statue.
More from the canoe trip to come! (Best wildlife shots, the GRAND animal list, real route map, 50 States 50 Photos: my favorite pic from each state, etc.).