A natural (and political and cultural) history of the American bird

The fortunes of our (unofficial) national bird have fluctuated. Exclusive to North America, bald eagles were fierce and beautiful symbol...


The fortunes of our (unofficial) national bird have fluctuated. Exclusive to North America, bald eagles were fierce and beautiful symbols for a new country, but as real birds they were often looked down upon as thieves. They may, in fact, be talented kleptoparasites, stealing fish from others, although scientists now consider this a sign of intelligence, not moral corruption. The once-widespread idea that they could snatch human children – dramatized in the 1908 silent film “Rescued From an Eagle’s Nest” – was wrong. Yet as predators they have been shot, poisoned and strangled by the thousands. They suffered habitat loss. The Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940 and the DDT ban in the early 1970s were vital.

Among the army of eagle champions, Davis details, my favorites are the most eccentric strangers: people like Doris Mager, who took a motion sickness pill before climbing into an eagle’s nest unoccupied in Florida in 1979 for what was labeled not a sit-in but a week’ nest. She raised awareness of the decline in the bald eagle population – at that time the birds were on their way to disappearance in most states.

Davis also pays tribute to ornithologists and biologists who boosted egg production, with helpful chickens conscripted to incubate extra broods of bald eagles and super glue to repair cracked shells when every egg counted. Healthy young eagles were airlifted and driven across the country to repopulate their habitat.

In the 1980s, “hack towers”, or artificial nesting towers, in which invisible human guardians raised the birds by hand, were in full swing. The eaglets bred in these programs did their best, providing Davis with close-up dramas of little eagles growing up “using their wings like crutches” to get around, while their big feet slump “in front of them like running shoes.” clown”. An eaglet, No. 60, which failed a first attempt to fly, crashed and had to painfully return to the ground to the home tower, “head down”.

Davis shines in just about everything in this rambunctious and expansive book, but most importantly by highlighting individual birds like the transferred ones making their way through the world. With eagle numbers now estimated at levels they were before “America became America”, their return is astounding.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A natural (and political and cultural) history of the American bird
A natural (and political and cultural) history of the American bird
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