This post at 10,000 Birds, an item I accidentally bumped into on the Internet while looking for something else, and an unusual sighting moments ago, converge. And, its a nice distracting convergence which I need right now because as I sit here one week before fishing opener, looking at the glassy surface of Hunters Bay, I see fish jumping everywhere. Not only that, but a 54 inch muskie was found dead a few days ago 25 feet from where I’m sitting now. And, the Department of Natural Resources put up a fish weir just across the bay, and they’ve been coming by every morning and pulling out SCADS of keepers (mostly northern pike). I’m not even going to look for my fishing gear, even though I can feel it in my hands and I can hear the plop of a bushy yellow spinner with clipped-off barbs dropping into the water inches form a rise spotted only second earlier…
OK, OK, back to the birds.
So, the national bird of the US, according to Corey (and I think he’s probably right about this) is the Bald Eagle, even though Founding Father Benj. Franklin wanted it to be the turkey. I do think it is better to have the eagle for several reasons. First, if the turkey was our national bird, we would be in the habit of eating our national bird in a big ceremony every November during our national holiday (Thanksgiving). Also, we would frequently eat our national bird in a sandwich for lunch. And we would talk about how eating our national bird could make us sleepy. And so on.
Franklin was against the Bald Eagle as our national bird because it is a bird of poor moral character. And this is true. As a kid, my very first sighing of a bald eagle, and this was at the height of the DDT crisis during which bald eagles in the Lower 48 were on the verge of extinction, was when I was watching an osprey (even more threatened by DDT) who just caught a fish flying back towards her nest… a giant bald eagle appeared out of the sky above the osprey, swooped down on the fish eagle and struck it from above. The osprey dropped the fish and the eagle was already diving below the victimized bird to grab the fish in mid air.
I watched that eagle take a fish from that osprey once or twice a day for two weeks. Often, perhaps most of the time, the eagle did not grab the fish in mid air, but it easily picked it up off the surface of the river over which this drama kept playing out. Also, often, the osprey would just drop the fish when it saw the eagle approach. The eagle would take off with the fish as its lunch, and the osprey would simply find a new fish that it could eat unaccosted. Franklin, in his assessment of the eagle, described exactly this behavior as evidence for the bird’s low moral standing.
But, in the end, it is probably good that the eagle ended up being our national bird for another reason other than the symbolic cannibalism to which I refer above. This is the fact that when DDT and other bad things were causing the decimation of our raptor population, it was easier to get Congress (and everybody else) on board with regulation because it was the patriotic thing to do. If our national bird was the turkey, then the eagles would be extinct by now, as would all the other life forms that free rode on those regulations, including osprey, other birds high up on the food chain, and for that matter, liberals and conservationists.
The incident that occurred moments ago was this: We were driving along heading from town to the cabin when we saw a flock of vultures hanging out on and near the trees along the side of the road. We passed them, turned around, and retraced our route to have a better look. There in a small clearing near the road we saw about five turkey vultures and one bald eagle standing on the ground shoulder to shoulder, with the remains of a McDonald’s happy meal just off to the side. I assume they had taken one of the local children from a nearby parking lot, though actually there are no McDonald’s anywhere near here. More turkey vultures lounged in nearby trees, and as we left the area we saw several in flight heading in the general direction of this scavenger’s orgy.
The item I came across on the Internet was this: Chippewa National Forest is the locality in the Lower 48 States with the largest concentration of Bald Eagles. Canada and Alaska have much larger concentrations, but for the southern contiguous states, its Chippewa National Forest. Which, interestingly, starts almost exactly one kilometer north of where the vultures were hanging around with this one bald eagle. In fact, as I sit here on Hunters Bay and look across the lake, to the extent that I can see anything through the spray being thrown up by thousands of giant Walleye leaping about, mocking me, I see trees on the other side that are within this forest, which encompasses Leech Lake, Cass Lake and several other large lakes, the Boy River and a good chunk of Mississippi River.
The moral of the story? The turkey may not be our national bird, but an eagle, which is, can be a real turkey.