Eagle: the patient ‘recycler’ of the woods and streams

ESCANABA – What’s that off on the snowy shoulder of the road?

Did the snow bank move? Is that frozen heap of fur a mastodon from centuries ago?

Slow the car down for a look. Ravens, as black as chimney soot, boldly pick at the carcass. Then from behind the unfortunate animal, a head like a white bleach jug appears. Eyes as yellow as cat’s eyes, head plumage as white as the snow and body the color of dark chocolate, startle the motorist.

For a moment you are face to face with a bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States of America. As you gawk at each other for a few seconds, you realize just how big of a bird our eagle is. There’s nothing cute and dainty about our mascot.

The dead deer by the side of the road is a God-send to an eagle on a below zero day. He wears the streaks of its blood on his head feathers. His hooked, amber-colored bill stabs at the venison like a steak knife.

Rippled and sinewy, the big bird’s legs step in the snow. Black dagger talons grasp into the frozen feast.

The eagle flops his awesome five-foot wing span just to scare off the pesky ravens and chick-a-dees that are trying to get their fair share, too.

We often think of our eagles as being summer residents gliding over the beautiful blue open waters of Upper Michigan. We have all marveled at their aeronautics as soar in the wind above the white pine trees. Then like suicide bombers, they free-fall from a tree along the river only to barely break the surface of the water as they snatch up fish.

Some of our eagles fly southward a bit as our lakes and rivers freeze up. But most of them stay right here hanging around open water.

When fishing screeches to a halt in mid-winter, the eagles have to turn to other sources of food. This is when our fisherman turns into our garbage man. More accurately, the eagle becomes a recycler or a carrion hunter. When a deer or other large animal succumbs to winter the ultimate predator or is killed by a car, the sharp-eyed eagle will find it.

Sometimes returning for days, the eagles will pick clean the carcass. Nothing goes to waste in a good and balanced chain of life.

Alongside the road is where many folks get their first close up look at the bald eagle. If you drive along the snowy U.P. country roads, be on a look out for deer of course, but also pay attention to the deer casualties in the ditch or on the edge of the field.

A symbol of life and freedom might be perched upon the ugliness of death. Other predators, like coyotes and foxes, may come to share in the kill, too, so slow down in these areas.

The winter eagle watches with his icy cold eyes every mouse and hare that makes tracks in the snow. Who’s catching fish out on the ice? The eagle knows. While he patiently waits for trout and walleye, a frozen venison sandwich will do.

Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of north Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published weekly in Lifestyles.