We see nature and wildlife around us all of the time, so often that we grow used to it.
Multiple sets of bright eyes shining in the headlights as a group of deer browse along the roadside after dark. Turkey vultures cutting big arcs in the sky high above our heads. Groundhogs chomping away at the edges of a spring wheat field, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings as they feed an insatiable hunger.
None of these sightings cause any alarm. These creatures live around us all of the time, so they become as ordinary as the robins singing from a perch on the power lines, or the increasingly annoying Canada geese that seem to have taken over every park and golf course in this part of the country.
What will grab our attention and force us to stop and stare is something out of the ordinary. It is the unusual that makes us turn our heads.
Such a sight occurred recently along a well-traveled country road. There was a dead raccoon along the shoulder of the pavement, one of the countless victims of roadkill we see all of the time. What made this scene unusual was that two bald eagles were working over the carcass.
Bald eagles are big birds, 10 or 12 pounds in weight and nearly 3 feet in length. Their distinct white heads make them stand out from a distance, and incredibly impressive up close when viewed through binoculars.
This pair did not appreciate the occasional truck or car that passed by, forcing them off their meal, so one of them grabbed the dead raccoon with those powerful talons and, with a series of hops produced by flapping its 6-to-7-foot wingspan, the eagle dragged the free meal some 20 or 30 yards out into an empty bean field.
This display took place a considerable distance from Lake Erie, a stronghold of the bald eagles, and this is not the first time the phenomenon has been observed. This pair is believed to be nesting someplace along the Portage River system.
It would have been an amazing sight to witness at any locale, but considering the recent plight of the bald eagle, it is nothing short of amazing.
There were thought to be maybe half a million bald eagles in North America when the first settlers from Europe arrived. Where they were isolated and away from the human population, the eagles remained strong, but some pioneers regarded them as a threat to their livestock and killed many eagles.
Once eagles were protected from shooting, the expanded use of pesticides harmed their eggs and populations plummeted. They were declared endangered in 1967, and by 1979 only four nesting pairs of bald eagles were found in the entire state of Ohio.
A stunning comeback followed, however, and the bald eagle numbers started trending upward as state biologists in Ohio created a very extensive program to both monitor the nests and protect the adult eagles from any threats.
By 1988, the eagle numbers in Ohio had increased to a dozen mating pairs. Ten years later there were close to 50 pairs nesting in the Buckeye State, and most of them produced young. The number of nests along Lake Erie jumped each year, and soon the eagles expanded their home territories to the Sandusky, Maumee and Portage river systems.
The two eagles working over those raccoon remains were undoubtedly part of this ever-expanding population. It is a treat to see this great icon of our nation, not just on a government emblem or the back of a dollar bill, but live and in the wild. Seeing the real thing in all of its power and beauty lets you know why it was chosen to represent this country as a symbol of our freedom and spirit.
Matt Markey is the A-T outdoors columnist.
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