The sacred bird

Our national bird, the American bald eagle, has been getting its fair share of media attention lately. Maine game wardens are still investigating the illegal shooting of one of our national symbols in western Maine. And, in a soon-to-be released story in the April issue of the Northwoods Sporting Journal, columnist and USFWS wildlife biologist Mark McCollough writes a most fascinating article about the eventual fate of a 36-year-old state resident bald eagle that had to be euthanized by wildlife officials. Sadly, the old bird, according to McCollough, was suffering the same ravages of age familiar to some of us graying, long-in-the-tooth bipeds: osteoarthritis. The aging eagle just couldn’t get around well anymore.

The good news is that the dispatched bald eagle will not wind up being scattered to the four winds or winding up in a vase on somebody’s mantle. Frozen and carefully packaged, the eagle has been sent along with other deceased eagles to the National Eagle Repository located in the Rocky Mountains not far from Denver, Colo.

By federal law, it is only legal for Native Americans to possess eagle feathers or body parts. In 1994, President Clinton issued an executive order mandating that all deceased eagles be sent to the National Eagle Repository. McCollough writes, “There the federal biologists carefully clean and prepare the eagle carcasses for shipping across the country to tribal members. The eagle remains are used (by tribal members) to create intricate headdresses, dance shawls and other pieces for religious and cultural ceremonies. Many eagles have made the return trip to Maine to be distributed among various state tribes. Sometimes tribal elders apply to the repository and disperse feathers to honor other members.”

Annually, the eagle repository receives about 3,500 eagle carcasses and fulfills about 4,500 orders.

For those of us who are not tribal members, who do not share a religious or ancestral connection to this magnificent bird, it is nonetheless easy to appreciate the wonder, worshipfulness and mystique of this soaring symbol that represents courage and strength to a Native American.

Why anyone in their right mind would purposefully kill one as an act of pointless vandalism is difficult to fathom.

Under the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act, the penalty for the wanton killing of a protected eagle is up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.

As for the old Maine eagle that had to be put down, it’s interesting to know that its processed feathers, talons, etc. continue to have value for generations and will be put to good use by Native Americans throughout the United States.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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