Eagles In Our Own Backyard

January 11, 2012
Shawnee, the resident bald eagle at Roaring Brook Nature Center.

Shawnee, the resident bald eagle at Roaring Brook Nature Center.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Roaring Brook Nature Center in Canton to attend the presentation of a $10,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation for upgrades to digital technology that will enhance programs for both children and adults. During the event, I also went on a tour of the building and outdoor enclosures where many of the animals that are being rehabilitated spend their time. The knowledgeable and caring staff introduced me to many of the birds of prey living at the Nature Center and even an albino squirrel named Frosty.

Maintaining five miles of trails on 165 acres of state-owned land, the Roaring Brook Nature Center has been affiliated with The Children’s Museum of Connecticut since 1973. The grant will help fund an initiative called “Seeing Nature with Digital Tools” that will help visitors visualize and understand the smaller aspects of nature with digital microscopes and projectors. Among the many animals that call the Nature Center home are rehabilitated birds of prey, including an American Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Turkey Vulture, two Barred Owls, and a Great Horned Owl. After meeting Shawnee, the Nature Center’s resident bald eagle, I was intrigued to learn more about these amazing birds.

During the summer, you may have gone tubing down the Farmington River or spent some time at another body of water in an attempt to cool off. These days, it’s more and more likely that you will be able to catch a glimpse of a bald eagle. Using their powerful wings and sharp talons, they swoop down and catch fish that stray too closely to the surface. These birds tend to spend most of their time near water, whether it’s a river, lake or pond, because they like to live near the source of their food. While it has only recently reestablished itself in our state, the bald eagle has long played a larger role in the history of our nation.

As the national bird of the United States, the bald eagle has played an important role. Take one look at the Great Seal of the United States and you will see a bald eagle clutching an olive branch in one talon and 13 arrows in the other, signifying the country’s desire for peace yet also a readiness for war. Also, in the eagle’s beak is a banner stating “E Pluribus Unum,” meaning “Out of Many, One,” in reference to our nation’s collection of states under a federal government.

Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, a committee was created to design a coat of arms for the new nation. Some six years later, the Continental Congress approved the new seal on June 20, 1782, also adopting the bald eagle as the national symbol. Since then, under Title 4, Chapter 2, § 41, the current U.S. Code has stated that “The seal heretofore used by the United States in Congress assembled is declared to be the seal of the United States.” If you are unfamiliar with the seal, you can see if by simply looking on the reverse side of a one dollar bill.

According to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection website, the bald eagle is slowly becoming more common in Connecticut. During the 1950s, there were no nesting pairs of bald eagles in our state. By 1992, the state classified the bald eagle as an endangered species. During the same year, however, one nesting pair returned to Litchfield County and successfully raised two fledglings. By 2010, we now have 18 pairs of bald eagles that have attempted to make their nests in six of the eight counties of our state.

Accordingly, the state has since reclassified the bald eagle to the improved status of ‘threatened.’ It is great news for state residents, who now have the opportunity to see these majestic birds perched in a tree or soaring high above. If you would like to learn more about programs and special events at the Roaring Brook Nature Center and see its numerous birds of prey, please visit their website at www.roaringbrook.org.