For the Birds Radio Program: Bald Eagle

Original Air Date: Feb. 20, 1987

How can a bird as majestic as an eagle be a scavenger?

Duration: 4′01″


Bald Eagle

(Recording–John Denver, “The Eagle and the Hawk”)

It has recently come to my attention that there are actually some people living in Duluth who have never seen a Bald Eagle. Our national emblem is on the federal endangered species list in 44 states–we in the northland are fortunate to be in one of the only areas in the nation where eagles are classified as merely threatened–not endangered. They’re only off the endangered species list in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Of course they’re far from common even here in the Northland, but it’s not all that hard to see them within the city limits during early spring and in fall. The first bird I saw from my yard when we moved here was an adult eagle cruising over Lakeside. And the very first bird my youngest son, Tommy, ever saw was a Bald Eagle–it glided right past our window in St. Luke’s Hospital when Tommy was one day old.

Late winter is probably the most depressing time to live up here– the snow is sooty and pock-marked, skiing and sledding conditions are poor most of the time, and our skies are often gray as a junco’s back. It’s easy to forget just how much beauty surrounds us if we trudge through the streets with our heads down. Yet even downtown Duluth isn’t all bricks and tacky billboards. The thousands of pigeons that live there may not be the most aesthetically-pleasing of birds, but they fly with a grace and power unique in the bird world. Watch them sometime– they flap hard, and then suddenly pull their wings into a sharp “V” and glide, banking from side to side as they wheel through the sky. If you watch the pigeons long enough, you may luck out and see a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon burst through in a high-speed chase. And once you develop the habit of looking up instead of down, sooner or later you’re bound to see a Bald Eagle.

(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

Eagles return to the Northland starting in late February and early March, as ice breaks up on smaller lakes. They don’t often fish in Lake Superior itself–eagles can’t grab anything deeper than the length of their legs. So they stay south until shallow water fish are available.

Eagles are opportunistic, even lazy, fishermen–they’d probably go to the grocery store and pick up their fish there if they had any money. The next best thing is a good dam that stuns or kills a lot of fish– eagles prefer picking up dead fish along the shores to actually catching their own. They chase Ospreys to steal their catches, too, and also eat a lot of roadkills–in March they’re sometimes seen with ravens on roadsides along the South Shore. If all else fails, eagles can set to work and catch their own meals–their huge, muscular feet, called talons, can grab a fish weighing as much as two or three pounds.

Bingo parlors and bricks may not be essential to the Northland, but eagles are. Why not open your eyes and see the real Duluth?

(John Denver)

That was John Denver, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”