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What The National Eagle Center Taught Me About COVID-19

With all of the extra time spent locked down this past week, it should have been a piece of cake to write one little blog post, right? Well … not so much. Lots of distractions both professional (I do have a REAL job besides blogging) and personal brought my brain to a screeching halt. My original intent was to write a piece about the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. March is the best time to witness these majestic birds congregating near the open water on the Mississippi River. And so the first weekend in March I made the pilgrimage south, explored the Eagle Center building, watched the winged wonders overhead, booted up my computer to start writing …. Then COVID-19, otherwise known as Novel Coronavirus, clipped my writing wings.

Don’t worry. I don’t have a fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, or shortness of breath. What I DO have is the one symptom that’s affecting an entire convocation (that’s the term for a group of eagles, by the way) of non-virus carriers. Just like a whole lot of other people out there, I’m lethargic. All of the horrific news and negativity surrounding us continually zaps my energy. I recognize that I’m sluggish. Unfortunately, I have trouble snapping out of it.

There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is
a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.

Carl Sandburg

National Eagle Center Building in Wabasha, MN
Experiencing a beautiful 60 degree March day at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN

Fortunately I have discovered a temporary reprieve. When the lethargic symptom overcomes me I turn my mind to something majestic. Soaring overhead. Representing freedom. It’s the national symbol of the United States of America. The great Bald Eagle.

I’ve always loved these giant birds that rule whatever airspace they occupy. But until this spring, I’ve never really taken the time to learn much about them. A trip to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota was definitely in order. Weekends in March really get this place hopping. It’s not only prime time for watching eagles in flight, but it’s also ideal for catching presentations by some real raptor experts. Talks with live eagle handlers abound. Flying bird shows are held each weekend. Spare rooms fill up with other live animals and reptiles. Educational programs are available for all ages. The Center schedules a wide array of events.

Standing along the banks of the mighty Mississippi River during one of the eagle handler talks I learned something important about eagles and COVID-19. Eagles are extremely territorial. I guess you could say they practice their own form of social distancing. They generally protect a very wide breeding and feeding area around them, screeching loud warnings when other eagles invade their territory. But when they are courting a mate, territories get thrown out the window.

Bald eagle screeching out a territorial warning
A very territorial Bald Eagle in captivity screeches out it’s “Stay out of my space!” social distancing warning as an intruder nears the window

In fact, a male and female bird will fly as close as possible to each other, nearly colliding before locking talons. No social distancing here! The two will hold on to each other as they free fall from extraordinary heights. The pair continues to plunge toward the earth, often getting within a few feet of contact with the ground that would almost certainly result in death. At the last minute the male and female eagles break apart, soaring safely back into the blue skies.

The purpose of this ritual is to test the strength, courage and dedication of the partner eagle. A fellow bird with the strength to hold on during counteractive forces, the courage to stick with it no matter how perilous things become, and the dedication to stay with a partner to the end is deemed worthy of courtship and mating (in the human world, worthy of our love.)

During these times when humans are being asked to stay at least six feet apart, we could learn a lot from this eagle ritual. Practicing social distancing from those that could possibly pose a threat by entering our territory is a natural form of protection and is definitely a good idea in these troubled times. But don’t be afraid to embrace those that are special in your life. Latch on to the loved ones that can help you discover strength and courage and don’t let go until they completely trust your extreme level of commitment. Your dedication to each other is vital. This dedication will help both of you as you strive to once again soar to new heights.

Native American statue outside the Wabasha National Eagle Center
The Native Americans believed that the mighty Bald Eagle was capable of transporting their prayers to the heavens

After the riverside handler presentation we headed indoors. Exploring the inside of the National Eagle Center building also had its educational moments. A short 12-minute video in a small theater filled with arrowheads, moccasins, woven baskets and other artifacts taught me about the beliefs and culture of the Dakota and Chippewa Native American tribes. These amazing people called the Winona/Wabasha river bluff country home in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Native American people considered the surrounding land and water to be sacred. In their lives, the bald eagles held a special reverence. Medicine men as well as the other tribesmen and women believed these magnificent birds were the only creatures capable of carrying their prayers all the way up to the heavens. The power of eagles brought them peace of mind.

“The eagle is the one in charge of carrying prayers 
from this world to the heavens.”
Native American Proverb

In this time of crisis, we all could use something as majestic as an eagle on which to pin our hopes, beliefs and prayers. Finding peace isn’t always easy, but a strong faith is vital to regaining some tranquility. Faith doesn’t necessarily have to include religious affiliation, but it does have to be tied to something in which you have very strong beliefs. Whether this is: the power of a God you worship, the sacredness of the land you walk on, the feeling that animal spirits are leading you to somewhere you need to be, or some other force that drives your conscience and actions, these beliefs need to remain strong, consistent and true. Hopefully through this faith you may find some peace in this COVID-19 situation.

Squirrel at the bird feeder
A squirrel “stockpiles” food at the bird feeder

So as I sit here today witnessing hackers, scammers and even some legitimate businesses exploiting the Coronavirus situation, I choose to turn my thoughts to the eagle. While I watch hoarders, panicked buyers and stockpilers clear the grocery shelves (even the squirrels on my deck are consuming, hiding and burying more than they need!!!) I take solace in the hunt-to-feed-only nature of the majestic white-headed birds. A snicker passes my lips as I hear someone on Facebook claim, “Those people are acting like animals!”

If only we could all just act like the Bald Eagle for a while. Spread our 6 to 7.5 foot wingspans. Feathers unruffled. Remaining calm. Barely moving our outer limbs while catching a thermal current that helps us soar to new heights. Completely unflappable.

The bird mascot of the National Eagle Center
The National Eagle Center’s costumed mascot raises a wing to confidence, hope and blessing!
NOTE: As of the writing of this blog post, the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN is temporarily closed due to the current risks associated with the spread of COVID-19 in the area. The center is acting on recommendations from health officials.

 Unfortunately March of 2020 will not be the right time to experience the grace, elegance and majestic beauty of the National bird of the U.S.A. at this location. But the doors will open once again. When they do, the plethora of information, the well-constructed exhibits, and the chance to get outdoors and see these amazing live birds in their natural habitat is worth a visit. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more information or make a donation, the National Eagle Center Website is open 24/7 just click here to open the link.

Wondering where Meandering Mike and Parker Flatly are going to park themselves next? Well wonder no more! You’ll never miss another post when you sign up for E-mail Notifications here! Thanks for reading. Stay safe and if you have any outdoor stories that are helping you cope with this crazy pandemic, we’d love to hear about them in the comments box below.

2 Comment

    1. Terri, it’s really a beautiful area down there and a pretty interesting place. But the majestic eagles flying overhead definitely steal the show!

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