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In Our National Arboretum, An American Icon Shows Us How 

A Prominent American Family

I’ve located the most responsible citizens in Washington DC, and you’re going to recognize this family as a symbol of America. I’ve been observing them for a while now. They are vigilant and hard-working, they care for one another, they work together to achieve their goals and they are responsible stewards of our beautiful planet.

It’s hard to believe they live just a few miles from Congress. But they are here, having built their home deep inside the National Arboretum. 

In a tree.

Yes, I’m talking about the First Family of Bald Eagles, who live atop an 80-foot tulip poplar nestled in the arboretum’s Azalea Collection. Two bald eagles returned in 2014 to build this nest, the first such nest in the arboretum since 1947. Unfortunately, numerous mating attempts by the eagles – Mr. President and The First Lady – were futile.

Things changed in 2021, when a new female launched a “nest takeover,” ran off her competitor and moved in with Mr. President! Who knows if the original pair knew it had fertility problems, but the new couple – she is simply Lady of the United States – got right to it and are a raising a bald eaglet born on March 28.

You can’t get near this nest. The perimeter is barricaded and under surveillance. But you can see that baby eagle, right now, via the solar-powered National Arboretum Eagle Cam. It was set up by the American Eagle Foundation with the livestream service donated by hdontap.com.

No matter how cynical we may be about the state of our democracy, you can’t help but feel a little jolt of patriotism when you see mama eagle guarding the world’s most-watched eaglet. 

Numbers Improving

A lot of us can remember when bald eagles were an endangered species, but there are now about 20 bald eagle nests in the DC region. We see the big birds from time to time, including famous footage of a bald eagle flying over the United States Capitol. Luckily, this was not on Jan. 6, 2021, or someone in the moron militia in town that day might have shot him down.

I want to point out here that there is no species of bird officially named the American Bald Eagle, though I have been challenged on this by indignant fans of bald eagles living in America. While I fully acknowledge that a bald eagle living in the United States could be called an “American” bald eagle, I have it on solid authority that bald eagles were around long before the Declaration of Independence. (I’ve also had to break this news to supporters of the Canadian Bald Eagle and the Mexican Bald Eagle.)

Eagles are not born strong enough to fly. They remain in the nest for three months, and if you check out this cam you’ll see eagle parenting starts with two fundamentals: Don’t let the baby fall out of the nest and don’t let anything else in. Sometimes both parents are there – mama eagle is almost always there, and if not she is very close by, most likely procuring something to eat. It is hard to appreciate the size of the nest on the camera, but it is 6 feet wide and 5 feet deep.

The livestream is on 24/7, and I watch it often because: A) I have a 6-year-old boy who loves animals and B) Around animals, I’m very much like a 6-year-old boy.

bald eagle

I’ve seen the eagles spreading out their feathers to protect the fuzzy eaglet from heavy rainfall, I’ve seen them bring in sticks to fortify their nest, I’ve seen them ride out high winds and freezing temperatures. They keep the baby warm no matter what. In our world we don’t worry about being in the elements all the time. When you see it in real time, it’s inspiring.

Eagles vs Humans

Things I’ve never seen the eagles do: Throw garbage out their car window, be the only person tooling around in a giant gas-guzzling SUV because it’s their “right,” say we don’t need to worry about plastic choking off life in the oceans because God is going to clean that up for us, eat takeout from Styrofoam dishes, or say they don’t care if the planet becomes uninhabitable for humans in 100 years because they won’t be around then anyway. (All real examples in my life within the past 30 days.)

Maybe we should ask the bald eagles if they still want to be a symbol of the “modern” United States. Everything the eagles do each day is sustainable, everything they produce is recyclable. They do not destroy the planet’s ecosystems, unlike their human counterparts, the only ones on Earth who believe we can outwit nature with technology. Hate to say it, but if you had to get rid of one species to have the most beneficial impact on the planet, you’d cut the one that’s burning fossil fuels, producing plastics and chopping down rainforests.

The clock is running, and nature’s not changing the rules for us. If you want to make a difference, it starts with doing things differently. Around our neighborhood it’s not hard to find someone who sets a great example. Just look up.

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About The Author
David Meeks
David Meeks
David Meeks has never hesitated to speak truth to power. He’s uncovered shady coal mine operators in Alabama, corrupt politicians in Louisiana and supported single fathers in Florida. When New Orleans flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Meeks, then Sports Editor of The Times-Picayune, refused an evacuation order. He commandeered a newspaper truck, assembled a team of journalists and won two Pulitzer Prizes. He has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and was the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports. He is Alabama-born and Michigan-raised, and today lives with his family in Washington, D.C.
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