I don’t recall when I saw my first bald eagle. They were mythical beasts in my childhood, living in a far off place, commanding and powerful, but driven to near extinction by our wanton use of pesticides. A near-perfect emblem of our nation in the 1970’s for a boy who could spell “conscientious objector” before he could spell “Mississippi.”
Growing up in Colorado, I’d seen plenty of hawks.
“Is that an eagle?” I’d always ask.
“Nope, red tail hawk.”
“But how can you tell an eagle from a hawk?”
“But how can you tell?”
It was like when I first visited Seattle for grad school so many years ago. It was a stark blue morning after a winter storm, and my first daylight sight had been the breathtaking white shark teeth of the Olympic Mountains to the west. When I got to campus, my faculty host, Robert Henry asked if I’d seen “the mountain” yet. I said I thought I had.
“No, if you only ‘think’ you have, you haven’t.”
He strolled me out to Rainier Plaza, where the eponymous 14,411′ sleeping giant lay to the south, a solitary behemoth intruding into an otherwise empty sky.
“Okay, now you’ve seen the mountain.”
That’s what it was like seeing my first bald eagle: enormous wings, unnaturally enormous wings. It looked like it had wings on the ends of its wings. Oh yeah. That’s an eagle. You never wonder again.
The first few eagles we saw up around Port Townsend felt like spirit guides, welcoming us. Fishing off the bluffs, or cavorting and courting at Salt Creek. When we were finally ready to commit to building the new house out on the western parcel of the farm, we decided to take one last walk out there. A lone bald eagle emerged from the woods, pivoted twice above the spot we’d chosen and departed to the north. Yeah, sure, we’ll take that as an omen.
It’s a strange morning when you wake to realize that you’ve got enough bald eagles around to start thinking of them as pests. Last summer, one of the eagles that hitchhikes air currents past the farm on summer days had a go at carrying off one of Logan and Lacey’s chickens. I believe it was the hen they used to call “Deathwish” for her reluctance to stay inside the electric wire pen.
In any case, the eagle got her off the ground but couldn’t transition to what we pilots call “a positive rate of climb,” and whoever was around chased her her with a broom or something until she dropped her reluctant passenger and flaaaaap flaaaap flaaaapped away in search of prey that didn’t have backup.
Past couple of weeks, maybe it’s the same eagle, maybe it’s a cousin, has been lurking around, eyeing the girls. He’ll hang out on a fence post glaring at us like, “Dude, you don’t get to hassle me – I know my rights. I’m an eagle: I get to hang out.” Last week he was a bit bolder, perching on a low branch over the shed, an easy glide-n-swoop from the latest location of the chicken pen. Hens were onto him that day, huddled into the coop and squawking 911 at the top of their little chicken lungs.
But chickens have small brains and startlingly short memories; whatever long-term preservation strategies evolution had in mind for them, man has bred right out of the gallus domesticus that comes down to us today. So no sooner was the hoary-headed Rambo of the skies out of sight than they resumed their ramblings. You’ve seen Moanna, right? Not a far step from the birds we’ve got here.
Anyhow, I didn’t see it happen, but apparently a couple of birds were up on the Glendon pods, picking through the hay at seed that Lacey had put down to try and establish some grass cover. Goldie, as her name suggests, had protective coloring on her side against the hay, but Delly, stark white and out in the open, could’ve been wearing an orange vest that said “Eat Me.”
And maybe it was the same eagle, because rather than trying to carry her off, he just settled right there on the mound and nommed away. Wasn’t a lot left by the time Lydia saw and chased him off.
On one hand this is (cue the swelling violins of a different Disney theme) the circle of life. Our national bird, and evolution in action for those who stray too far from the coop. On the other hand, Logan and Lacey have put a lot of time and love into those birds and we now have an eagle that knows he can get himself a chicken dinner if and when he plays his cards right. The remaining girls are understandably sticking closer to home for now, but I suspect we have yet to see the end of this.