Review: ‘The Bald Eagle’ explores America’s complicated history with its national bird

Creator Jack E. Davis poses with a matter of his newest ebook, “The Bald Eagle.” Image: Debbie Thomas

Pulitzer Prize-winning environmental historian Jack E. Davis’ “The Bald Eagle: The Inconceivable Journey of America’s Bird” is a feel-very good tale. That is, at the time you are carried out sensation pretty darn awful about the way People in america dealt with these dwelling symbols of countrywide greatness all through substantially of the country’s previous.

As Davis recounts in his engaging and really detailed cultural and organic record of the unofficial national chicken (Davis factors out that no president or Congress has at any time signed a proclamation or law generating it formal), Us citizens, deliberately and unintentionally, devised all sorts of approaches to destroy off these majestic raptors that some lauded as “the monarch of the air.” Davis dubs bald eagles “the bird of paradox” and concludes: “Yet no animal in American record, unquestionably no avian one particular, has to the exact excessive been the simultaneous object of reverence and recrimination. For hundreds of years, eagles risked their lives traveling throughout American skies.”

“The Bald Eagle: The Unbelievable Journey of America’s Bird” by Jack E. Davis. Photograph: Liveright Publishing

That is due to the fact even nevertheless a large portion of the citizenry has long believed that flag-burning is treasonous, they believed almost nothing of exterminating Outdated Glory’s dwelling counterpart. The condition of Alaska paid bounties on bald eagles as late as 1952 and, below the plan, nearly 130,000 of the birds ended up eventually killed along the Last Frontier.

There were being all types of causes — there constantly are for taking pictures items. Extended in advance of the Massive Lie, the large and tiny lies advised about bald eagles just about led to the birds’ extinction: Bald eagles had been supposedly depleting fish and wildlife. It was explained they killed lambs and calves and even carried infants to their fatalities, a tragedy graphically depicted by filmmaker D.W. Griffith, he of the racist “The Start of a Country,” in the 1908 single-reeler “Rescued From an Eagle’s Nest.”

Nor have been these allegations confined to Individuals stricken with what Davis characterizes as the “if-it-flies-it-dies way of thinking.” The bold ebook examines the heritage of American ornithology, and the famed John James Audubon arrives below fire. Davis estimates that Audubon may well have quickly killed 2,500 birds of assorted species to use as models for his paintings, and even shot a mom bald eagle sitting on her eggs. Not to mention chopping down a Louisiana tree to get at some nestlings. The terrific man detested bald eagles and helped perpetuate enduring misconceptions, characterizing the birds as cowardly and tyrannical creatures with a “cruel spirit,” apparently simply because Audubon did not like the way bald eagles filched fish from ospreys. By contrast, Davis deftly provides alive the bald eagle as a real animal, independent from both equally the myths of its rapaciousness and the symbolic majesty that at instances has manufactured the birds emblems for corporations ranging from the Countrywide Rifle Association to the Countrywide Wildlife Basis.

With no natural predators, bald eagles are in truth the monarchs of the American sky. They can fly 35 mph — even more rapidly in a tailwind — applying 8-foot wingspans that have better structural power than the wings of airplanes. Endemic to North The usa, the versatile birds have a vary that consists of Baja California as properly as the Aleutian Islands, and hunt prey on land, air and h2o, with a lot of scavenging blended in. Bald eagles are monogamous and mate for existence, although there are at times exceptions. In a single whimsical passage, Davis aspects a polyandrous marriage on the Upper Mississippi River involving a trio of bald eagles: Hope, Valor and a youthful male interloper, Valor II.

“The Bald Eagle” does bathroom down in stretches, mostly because Davis under no circumstances achieved an eagle point he didn’t like. Occasionally the minutiae, specifically the extended account early in the ebook describing the origins and evolution of the bald eagle’s depiction on the Terrific Seal of the United States, slows the story down.

More profitable is Davis’ moving depiction of the toll that the pesticide DDT took on bald eagles at a time when the birds experienced last but not least transcended the quite a few myths that just about doomed them. Davis writes that whilst American attitudes started off to change by the late 19th century and culminated with the 1940 enactment of the Bald Eagle Defense Act (the 1st federal law to guard an unique species, even as it excluded Alaska), rampant postwar use of DDT released a danger considerably a lot more deadly than any shotgun. Eagles stopped laying eggs. Or those eggs they did create had slender shells prone to breakage. The bald eagle inhabitants crashed, and the birds disappeared from large swaths of the country they symbolized.

Immediately after the ban of DDT in 1972, bald eagles commenced to come back and by 2007 were being taken off from the listing of endangered and threatened species. Davis writes that the inhabitants seems to have rebounded to historic stages and now there are even nesting pairs in the Bay Space, from Point Reyes to the South Bay. So perhaps hope is in fact the detail with feathers — 7,200 feathers to be exact on the ordinary bald eagle. But though we can celebrate the bald eagle as a unusual environmental achievement tale, Davis tucks a sobering point into an conveniently skipped footnote: U.S. Fish and Wildlife estimates that pesticides nevertheless kill 67 million birds each year.

The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Hen
By Jack E. Davis
(Liveright Publishing 432 web pages $29.95)




  • Matt Jaffe

    Matt Jaffe is an award-winning journalist and writer who has put in much of his profession writing and reporting on the setting and culture of California, the Southwest, Mexico and Hawaii.