As we near the July 4th holiday, a date so full of meaning and promise for many Americans, I wanted to blog on the female Bald Eagle pictured here. She is our national bird and is behind bars for the rest of her life.
This eagle is in captivity at Bear Branch Nature Center in Maryland. She contracted West Nile Virus and lost her primary flight feathers. Her only chance of survival is behind bars, protected from predators. And while she did not meet her fate by human hands, like so many other birds, she is not living the life she could or should be.
In 1782 the Bald Eagle was chosen by Congress to represent our nation and officially adopted as our national symbol in 1787. The eagle represents freedom, long life, and strength. Its majesty only adds to this representation. It is on our Great Seal and most of our money. When we see this beautiful bird soaring, it is everything we want our country to strive for. As photographers we are obsessed with capturing photos of Bald Eagles catching their food, in flight, perching atop a tree, and perching regally.
Bald Eagles are also unique to North America. They are found on no other continent. For years, because of the pesticide, DDT, they were on the Endangered Species list, and while they are now delisted, they are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. It is a federal crime to harm these magnificent creatures, but that does not stop those who are intent on destroying a life, particularly one that symbolizes America’s ideals. In 1989 the US Supreme Court decided that it was within our free speech rights to burn the American flag, another great American symbol, as a show of protest or otherwise. Congress to this date has not had enough votes to overturn that decision. But it is never okay to harm a Bald Eagle. Our constitutional rights to do not extend that far.
When I photographed this particular bird behind bars, the symbolism really struck me. It was unsettling to say the least. The bars stole this animal’s strength and beauty and marred the symbolism she exudes.
So on this Fourth of July as we celebrate yet another birthday of this great nation, let’s take care of our national symbols living or otherwise. They deserve that much from us.