For the Birds Radio Program: Port Wing Blue Jay Hater's Birthday

Original Air Date: Aug. 14, 1987

Laura celebrates her father-in-law’s birthday by talking about his favorite and least favorite birds, and mentions the only time there has ever been a mid-air collision between and airplane and a fish.

Duration: 3′41″


Port Wing Blue Jay Hater and two of his grandchildren Bald Eagles

(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

Port Wing, Wisconsin, is a little town on the south shore of Lake Superior. It used to be perfect until they developed the harbor and beach, and even now it’s as nice a birding place as I know. Wisconsin’s only record of a Western Pewee was seen in Port Wing, and it’s without rival for nesting warblers. One of the best things about Port Wing is its Blue Jay haters–for some reason, people who despise jays seem particularly drawn to Port Wing. Blue Jays flock from miles around just to taunt them–a beautiful sight since Blue Jays are my favorite bird.

And today is my favorite Port Wing Blue Jay Hater’s birthday. His feeder always sparkles with jays, stuffing their gular pouches with sunflower seeds and jeering loud enough to penetrate his thermopane window. Naturally I wanted to honor this man with a birthday program about a bird that he felt some passion for. It was with a tinge of regret that I decided not to talk about jays–if I even whisper their name it might spoil his day. His antipathy for them is exceeded by his love for fishing, another Port Wing specialty, so I decided to do this program on a bird that spends its life fishing–the Bald Eagle.

(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

Our national emblem sounds a lot more wimpy than it looks. You’ll never hear an eagle on a car commercial–Madison Avenue uses Red-tailed and Rough-legged Hawk calls to conjure up a macho image for merchandise.

The Bald Eagle doesn’t act all that majestic, either. A ten-pound eagle can catch and carry a four-pound fish in its talons–that’s comparable to a Port Wing Blue Jay Hater catching an 80-pounder. But Bald Eagles are lazy–they’d just as soon pick up their food already dead, like people who buy fish in a grocery store. Eagles congregate at dams in winter, where they pick up a lot of stunned and dead fish. And an eagle isn’t above stealing its dinner from ospreys. Ben Franklin thought it was a terrible choice for our national emblem, chiding that “he does not get his living honestly.” Actually, eagles are strong believers in supply-side economics and exploiting those weaker than themselves, so they would fit in rather nicely in Washington today–if only the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay weren’t so filthy.

Between pollution and shooting, eagles have not been well-served by this nation that they symbolize. A shameful number are still shot at each year, even though it’s a felony. Fortunately, we live in one of the only states where eagles are not considered endangered, although they still are threatened in Alaska, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

An eagle is responsible for one of the oddest aviation accidents ever–a mid-air collision with a fish. When a Bald Eagle found itself on the same flight path as an Alaska Airlines plane, the panic-stricken bird jettisoned its cargo. The fish slammed into the airplane, damaging the fuselage. The plane fortunately made it to its destination–no one onboard was hurt, and the eagle was A-OK. The only casualty was the fish.

(Recording of a Bald Eagle)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”