Not so long ago, the only chance of seeing America's National Bird live in DC was a visit to the National Zoo. While still your best shot of seeing a live bird, the Bald Eagle is becoming widespread in wild around the Washington area, and if you keep your eyes open, you might see one.
What once was a sight to tell you kids about, has become almost commonplace. Just this weekend I saw several of them along the Potomac about an hour south of DC. And it's not unusual to sight one inside the city limits, either. Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac is a popular place for sightings, and others have been seen throughout the city. My wife, who has no reason to lie, has even claimed to have seen one from our front porch on the eastern fringe of Capitol Hill, near the Anacostia River.
And as stirring as the sight is, it may become even more common in coming years. From only 417 nesting pairs in the Continental US in 19563, the population has rebounded so strongly that the Fish and Wildlife Service recently delisted them from the Threatened Species list. However, before you go out and grab a trophy, remember the Bald Eagle is still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. I'm looking at you here, National Harbor. So, with Federal protection and something like 10,000 mating pairs alive right now, can it be long before seeing a Bald Eagle is about as exciting as seeing a Squirrel?
Now, if you are not hung up on seeing a real one; catching a glimpse of a statue, engraving, picture, or some other impression of a Bald Eagle is hardly a challenge. In fact, the real difficulty may be taking a picture in DC without one. Thanks to their symbolic status, they're a very common design motif throughout the Federal City. My personal favorite: just up the way from the Bald Eagle Refuge at the Zoo, near the Bird House, is one of only fourteen original Eagles that once adorned Penn Station in New York City. And if anyone knows the story of how it ended up here, please forward it along, I've been wondering about that one for awhile now.
And no, before we close, Benjamin Franklin never proposed the Wild Turkey as our national bird, nor does the Bald Eagle shift his gaze on our Great Seal in times of war. But we'll talk more on that when we revisit urban legends later in the Fall.