- West Side Story: Fall 2005
Bald eagles returning to our skies
"Soaring high overhead, riding on aerial thermals as deftly as a sailboat glides across a shimmering wave, few would deny that watching a bald eagle fly is one of the most inspiring sights in the natural world. The magnificent bird of prey is the perfect balance of grace and power, beauty and steely-eyed resolve.
Bald eagles are our national symbol, and I can think of no other feathered or furry creature that commands such respect. Whether it’s flying over a remote area lake or swooping into a crowded stadium before a World Series game, people pause to watch in slack-jawed wonder, their hearts pounding in disbelief. They cheer. They applaud. They jump up and down. Eagles have become one of the most revered icons in our culture, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Presently, seeing a bald eagle is not an everyday affair. They are few and far between. Yet, they were a lot more common 400 years ago, so banal to early settlers that they were regarded as a nuisance, even shot on sight. One account recorded in the year 1668 reports that an “infinite number” of bald eagles were killed to feed hogs in Cumberland County, Maine. Pig food. As I write the words my fingers tremble; anger rises to clog my throat. I can hardly believe what I have just read, but it’s documented to be true.
Less than four centuries later, by the 1950s, they were virtually gone from eastern North America. Their decline was due to overhunting, habitat loss, general disrespect and the long-term buildup of pesticides in their bodies—most notably DDT. Historically the large raptor with a wingspan of over seven feet nested in west Tennessee, along the Mississippi River, Reelfoot Lake and at Land Between the Lakes, but there were no successful nests in our state from 1961 to 1983, a period of 22 years. With the banning of DDT in 1972 and the protection of the Endangered Species Act, the magnificent raptor’s beleaguered population began to rebound. Eagles are returning to our skies, but they have needed a little help...
For the rest of the article about bald eagles in Tennessee, look for the fall issue of the West Side Story.
- A special thank you goes to editor/publisher Dan Barile.