I’ve recently been enjoying volunteering at the Raptor Center at the Vet School here in Columbia. The birds of prey are phenomenal, rapturous:) Among other birds like owls, hawks, falcons and vultures there are the eagles, and the bald is one most known to us here in Missouri, especially as they winter along our waterways.
Not too long ago, in 1963, these birds were headed toward extinction. Conservationists counted around 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48. In 1978 they were declared an endangered species. Today, after years of protection, the count is more like 10,000 nesting pairs. Intentional protection made all the difference. What brought about the threat in the first place?
The answer is simple: shooting, habitat loss, pesticides.
Of course, unthinking people shot the birds. But more importantly their habitats along waterways – prime nesting places – were going away through unmindful development. The restoration of wetlands made a huge difference in eagle habitats. And then there were the insidious effects of fertilizers – especially DDT – that always runs off into water sources and up the food chain to the top predators, the raptors. Like lead poisoning in fish population is passed on to other species of fish or humans who consume them, eagles consumed the DDT-carrying prey.
Short story: It matters how we humans act as stewards of the environment. For years serious outdoors people, hunters, fishers and conservationists have been paying serious attention to native habitats. They know that every species, including our own, depends on them. And environmental groups that operate on the macro level address the egregious abuses that fall under the radar of most citizens.
We know why the eagles came back from the edge; it’s no mystery. And every time I see them soaring I am reminded again of the creation story in which the human creature is given dominion – stewardship – and what a real difference it makes.