The majestic bald eagle can be spotted throughout most of North America at various points during the year. Here in Western Washington, we’re lucky to spot them all year-round — no doubt thanks to an abundance of tall trees for nesting and open bodies of water that provide a source of food. They are revered birds, sacred within Indigenous traditions, and associated with wisdom, bravery, and protection.
Only a few decades ago, the future of bald eagles was tenuous. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bald eagles were considered menaces by settler farmers, even falsely labeled as vicious, baby-snatching predators that might swoop away with an unsuspecting infant. In some areas, bounties were placed on the birds (folks could earn 50 cents to a dollar per bird killed), and their numbers declined by tens of thousands. The following years brought habitat destruction and deadly contamination of food sources by pesticides like DDT; by the 1960s, the population of nesting pairs dipped into the hundreds. After decades of concerted efforts, the bald eagle population recovered; today, it has soared to well over 300,000. What can we glean from the path of the bald eagle and the varying ways that different groups of humans have interacted with it?
In The Bald Eagle: The Improbable Journey of America’s Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jack E. Davis traces the cultural and natural history of the bald eagle from before the nation’s founding through resurgences of the enduring species. Contrasting the age when indigenous peoples lived beside it peacefully with eras when others pushed Haliaeetus leucocephalus to the brink of extinction, Davis considers how the historical journey of the bald eagle might offer inspiration as we grapple with large-scale environmental peril today.
Jack E. Davis is the author of the award-winning book, The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea and An Everglades Providence: Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the American Environmental Century. A professor of environmental history at the University of Florida, he lives in Florida and New Hampshire.
Deborah Jensen is the Vice-President and Executive Director for Audubon Washington working to protect birds and the places they need now and in the future. Her career is dedicated to conservation, with decades of executive experience leading conservation, education, and scientific organizations. Deborah currently serves on the Puget Sound Leadership Council and the Board of Climate Solutions and is a past-chair of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition.
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