My first encounters with Bald Eagles were rather disappointing. I saw some in a zoo when I was a kid. I did marvel at the size of the birds. But, they didn’t seem nearly as impressive as the ones shown in the wild on my favorite nature TV shows. A few years ago, I saw one trying and failing to remove an unidentified road killed carcass off of a country road. Indeed, it seemed more to me like an over-glorified buzzard rather than a powerful symbol of our nation. I found my opinion to be in line with Ben Franklin. That the Wild Turkey was a far more noble bird.
My opinion changed with two later exposures to the eagle. Standing on a pier last March, one of them flew within range of my 300mm lens. I was able to admire the fantastic wingspan of the bird as it soared over the York River looking for fish. It had an expression of purposeful authority above and beyond any other bird around. Zoos are convenient places to see these raptors. But, there is nothing like seeing a Bald Eagle soar in an endless sky over a vast stretch of water.
As if I needed anything else to convince me of this bird’s awesome power, I had a chance to see the eagle as a hunter. I had just put my Bible down when I noticed the bird all but stopping in mid-air. It was like it stopped at a fish market because something caught its eye. Within seconds, the eagle had turned upside down, struck the water, and flew off with a fish firmly in its right talon. This was not a scavenging moment nor a case of flying to the nearest feeder. The Bald Eagle was the perfect combination of vision and speed.
The bird still has it’s less savory characteristics. It keeps an untidy nest, feeds on carrion when given the chance, fights with Osprey, and will even steal food from a Seagull (I saw it one day after work). But, the overall impression of the Bald Eagle is that of might, freedom, and the glory of the outdoors. Although the turkey does not share the same adverse qualities, it is far more fitting on a dinner table than on a military insignia.