Friday, February 1, 2008


The old hunter proudly plopped the feathered carcass down on the ground for all of us to see. He stretched out its large, once-powerful wings to their full spread. The keen-eyed marksman felt sure he had just rid the neighborhood of a nasty predator.
Almost every farm had a flock of chickens running free in the yards back then. And anything that even vaguely resembled a "chicken hawk" was the enemy ... and was fair game for anyone with a gun. The trophies were often "spread-eagled," attached to a fence or tacked to a board wall with their wings fully extended. I was only a small boy then, and the dead bald eagle looked frighteningly large and ferocious.
Later I learned that the American bald eagle is our national bird - a part of our country's emblem - a proud, noble, royal, majestic bird and brave beyond belief. And that it is protected by Federal Law.
Eagle lovers "ooh" and "aah" at the great birds' ability to swiftly and silently swoop down to the river, catch a large fish with their talons, then,
without hesitation, flyaway with it, scarcely rippling the water's surface. They love to tell of some amazing aerobatics the feathery aviators engage in when in a playful mood. These include high-speed dives and loops and rolls reminiscent of the old-time human stunt flyers. They even speak of a few kinky tricks sometimes accomplished by two of the large, daring birds ... stunts that may or may not have inspired the old airline slogan, "Fly United."
The gaudy raptors' great size and snow white heads and tails set them apart from all other birds and their presence is always sure to attract attention. But they are not always universally loved and adored, respected and revered. Some farmers consider eagles unwelcome visitors to their property. Oh, they no longer believe in all the wild old tales. Most don't worry that their smaller livestock will be carried off ... or their small children. But a number of costly animal diseases plague farming country. Illnesses that cause a high mortality rate among their hogs, especially the newborn piglets, often wiping out the entire litters of most or all of the mother sows. In many cases, eagles get the blame for carrying these diseases from one farm to another.
In winter or early spring, a field spread with fresh hog manure holds a great attraction for eagles. From many miles away they will find and converge on such "choice pickings." And when finished, fly on to another such feeding ground, often a dozen miles away, and then another, possibly carrying some of the dreaded germs with them.
Some of our few surviving male chauvinists (an endangered subspecies) also take an extremely dim view of the bald eagles and their feathered world - a strange and unbelievable land where "queen size" means larger than "king size," where females completely rule the roost - and the nest - and everything else, a phenomenon made possible by their superiority in size, strength and ferocity,


The American bald eagle
Is our country's bird, although
Ben Franklin thought the turkey, wild,
Would be much more apropos.

Adult eagles are great, huge birds
Each is adorned with a clump
Of snow white feathers on the head
And on each and every rump.

Their size is quite impressive, and
They have plumage, goodness knows Like
old turkey buzzards dressed in
"Sunday-go-to-meeting" clothes.

To bird lovers, they're proud monarchs
Surveying from a tall tree"
Great untamed kingdoms as far as
Only eagles' eyes can see.

In the winter, they can be seen
On the river, now and then,
By a patch of open water
Often there'll be eight or ten.

Rural folks all know there's one place
They'll be seen flocking around
Where some farmer's spread hog droppings
On the snowy, frozen ground.

Though they're this great country's emblem
I will tell you this, for sure
Eagles look a lot less regal
When they're knee-deep in manure.

Theirs is an endangered species
Sorely threatened - yet I know
We sure didn't see this many
Baldies sixty years ago.

All-in-all, I must admit that
Eagles still give me a thrill
Whether seen out in the wild, or
On a crisp one-dollar bill.

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