Yesterday evening, Michael and I went out for a quick bite. As we were driving down the hill in our neighborhood, we spotted a huge bird overhead. We slowed down to get a better look, and watched it glide and gently, elegantly beat its enormous wings. Its magnificent wingspan and distinct markings were unmistakable. It was a Bald Eagle skimming the highest treetops on the ridge of the hill. It was so beautiful and unexpected, it made the day. Although they are primarily coastal dwellers, nesting along large lakes and the ocean, they winter near rivers and marshes, which are plentiful in our area.
I have two bird books I reference. One is a thirty-five year old Roger Torey Peterson from Michael’s college days, and the other a 1998 year old Audubon. The Peterson reference map for the Bald Eagle shows a very narrow breeding range, with question marks as to whether the bird still inhabited the far northern and eastern reaches of North America. It was absent south and west of Downeast Maine. The notation reads “formerly more widespread;has declined in recent years.” In wonderful contrast, the Audubon map shows the Eagle’s nesting and wintering ranges to be widespread across the continent wherever there are large lakes and rivers, as well as the coastlines throughout the US and Canada. References for other species tell a similar tale. The Wild Turkey and Cooper’s Hawk were nearly extinct when the Peterson guide was published. They are now thriving.
At a time when many bird populations are under severe stress due to habitat loss and climate change, it is worth noting that conservation efforts work. They may not be politically easy, they certainly take time, money and awareness, and, yes, governmental involvement, but they work. And the fact that there was an eagle in our suburb last night doesn’t mean the work is done. It never is.But seeing an Eagle where they had completely disappeared a few decades ago, does offer motivation to continue conservation efforts, proof that we can still get it right once in a while when it comes to taking care of our world, and hope that we will keep trying even in the face of mounting odds.