By Woodrow Polston
A crowd of visitors filled the Vandalia Branch Library last week to watch a presentation on eagles conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Children sat on the floor facing the large taxidermy mount of an American Bald Eagle as MDC agent Ethan Regan introduced himself to the group.
“My name is Ethan, and it is good to see everyone here today,” said Regan. “We are here today to talk to you guys about the bald eagle. We have a nice mature bald eagle on display here today. A few things to discuss about the eagle is that it is the national symbol, and you will see that the government uses the eagle on a lot of things. An interesting fact about the eagle is that Benjamin Franklin originally wanted our national emblem to be a wild turkey instead of the bald eagle. The reason is because the eagle is sort of a glorified vulture and there was concern about our country being represented by a vulture,” he added.
As the presentation continued, children were able to interact and ask Regan questions about the eagle. At one point, MDC agent Jenna Stiek assisted Regan in passing around a replica eagle skull, eggs and talons for the children to hold and look at.
“When they are young, they do not have a white head like the mature eagles have. They do not start getting a full white head until they are about 5 years old. When they are juvenile birds, they have brown feathers on their head. About 40 years ago it was rare to see a bald eagle. They had become an endangered species. A lot of their habitat had been destroyed. There was also a myth going around that eagles were snatching little kids up and eating livestock. So, people were afraid of them. And so, people began hunting them and killing them in massive numbers. Today, we have around 10,000 breeding pairs of bald eagles in the state of Missouri. Some other facts about the bald eagle are that they can weigh about 14 pounds when fully mature and can have a wingspan of up to 8 feet.” he added.
After the presentation, children were allowed to come up to the front and get a closer look at the eagle. The MDC agents also displayed a banner with the outline of an eagle with its wings spread out for the children to see how they measured up with their arms fully extended in front of it.
According to allaboutbirds.org, The Bald Eagle has been the U.S. national emblem since 1782 and a spiritual symbol for native people for far longer than that. These regal birds aren’t really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings. Look for them soaring in solitude, chasing other birds for their food, or gathering by the hundreds in winter. Once endangered by hunting and pesticides, Bald Eagles have flourished under protection. Immature Bald Eagles spend the first four years of their lives in nomadic exploration of vast territories and can fly hundreds of miles per day. Some young birds from Florida have wandered north as far as Michigan, and birds from California have reached Alaska. Bald Eagles occasionally hunt cooperatively, with one individual flushing prey towards another. Bald Eagles can live a long time. The oldest recorded bird in the wild was at least 38 years old when it was hit and killed by a car in New York in 2015. It had been banded in the same state in 1977.