Presidents’ Day. It’s one of those less-ascribed holidays generally deemed more of an excuse to take off from work, than an opportunity to actually honor something. For me however, Presidents’ Day remains special because of the history behind it, and the patriotic imagery therein. Falling on a cold February day, it conjures iconic images of General Washington marooned at Valley Forge, or crossing an icy Delaware River in the fog….enduring starvation, disease, and suffering for what would eventually become our nation. And when reflecting on how our nation became the beacon of freedom that it is, nothing is more symbolic than the choice our forefathers made for our national bird: the Bald Eagle.
While eagles are residents of both the Old and New World, the Bald Eagle in particular is indigenous only to North America, and has a marked presence here in Alabama. The city of Guntersville is the undisputed “Eagle Mecca” of Alabama, and gatherings there are abundantly facilitated through the programs of Lake Guntersville State Park. Their annual Eagle Awareness packages feature live Raptor Shows, tours of an active eagle nest, as well as all-day opportunities to view bald eagles diving into the lake itself. This past Feb 8th, the show was hosted by “Wings To Soar” , where live raptors were released indoors to zoom just inches over the heads of 400 attendees inside the park’s spacious ballroom. The stars of the show were the Red-Tailed Hawk, Great-Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Screech Owl, Kestrel Falcon, Black Vulture, with the finale belonging to the Bald Eagle himself. The raptor show was a thrill for nature lovers of all ages, and afterwards included a chance for the curious to touch a screech owl perched on the fingers of Wings To Soar experts.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century that eagles were often spotted in Alabama. There was roughly a 40-year gap after 1949 where the state went without a single recorded nesting. However, after restoration efforts began in 1984, two successful nestings finally recurred in 1991. The Bald Eagle’s re-establishment has in fact become so successful that it is no longer listed as an endangered species, and is now heralded as one of the most poignant success stories of responsible Wildlife Management.
Restoration efforts have led to an improved eagle presence further south in the state as well, to Randolph, Clay, & Chambers counties, just to name a few. Bald Eagles are particularly attracted to dam sites such as R.L. Harris and West Point, for the easy pickings of fish near their spillways. The sheer awe of watching these majestic birds diving underwater and emerging with a fish has become an exhilarating new attraction for visitors, both local and out-of-state. Moreover, there is probably no more patriotic feeling than watching our national bird showcase the spirit of freedom through these diving displays in his natural domain. If you have never seen an eagle soar in this way, we invite you to add Alabama eagle-watching to your must-do list, and experience the thrill first-hand.
(Views expressed are that of the author Vaughn Samuels, and not of any employer.)