As I was fishing near Browns Bridge on Lake Lanier this past week, I caught a motion above me out of the corner of my eye and turned quickly to look. I easily spotted the huge black bird with a head crowned in brilliant white, and cold chills ran all over my body! It seems that whenever I encounter any of these gorgeous creatures, something inside me always triggers the national pride that goes with this magnificent symbol of our country.
For the past couple of years these marvelous birds of prey have been making a tremendous comeback from being endangered, but in our area, their numbers are still quite small. No single cause is cited for the decline of the bald eagle, but as human populations expanded, eagle numbers were reduced. Food supplies for eagles decreased because humans competed for the same food. Also, westward expansion in the 1800’s reduced natural habitats of eagles, which lowered bald eagle numbers dramatically.
During the 1930’s, people became aware of the diminishing bald eagle population, and in 1940 the Bald Eagle Act was passed. This legislation reduced harassment by humans, and eagle populations recovered somewhat. DDT and other pesticides that were introduced during the 1940’s, however, began an even greater decline of bald eagles. Also, more than 100,000 bald eagles were killed in Alaska from 1917 to 1953 because Alaskan salmon fisherman falsely feared that eagles were a threat to the salmon population.
Slowly, public awareness increased, and many states placed the bald eagle on their lists of endangered species in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Many dedicated individuals and groups worked to make the conservation of eagles a national issue, and on July 4,1976, the Wildlife Service officially listed the bald eagle as a national endangered species. The miracle is that the bald eagle has been removed from the list of endangered birds and animals.
Eagle feathers are considered by many native cultures to be incredibly powerful and valuable possessions. These feathers were important not only in Indian war ceremonials and objects, but in many healing rituals. They also played central roles in the eagle dance, and were used along with eagle-bone whistles in the sun dance.
Today in the United States and Canada, eagle feathers may be obtained for ceremonial purposes only by special permit. Eagles and eagle parts from dead birds that have been found or confiscated are distributed through government agencies to the native peoples. They are then allotted by the elders of each group according to need.
The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of American, because of its long life, great strength, and majestic looks. It has appeared on the backs of gold coins, the silver dollar, the half dollar, the quarter, and the Great Seal of the United States.
To most oppressed peoples of the world, the eagle represents freedom. It is also said that it was used as a national emblem in our country because a few appeared at one of the first battles of the Revolution. It seems that the noise of the struggle awoke the sleeping eagles on the heights and they flew from their nests and circled over the heads of the fighting men, all the while giving vent to their shrieks for Freedom.
Since my first discovery of a family of bald eagles on the north end of Lake Lanier several years ago, I have had the extreme pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breath-taking presence with my guide clients on many eco tours and fishing trips. Now, regardless of how the fishing might be, every trip into the solitude of the Upper Chattahoochee River with my jet boat or fishing trips on Lake Lanier begin with wild anticipation of once again viewing our own miracle of restoration!