Telling me about a presentation she gave on eagles, my 9-year-old granddaughter asked: “Did you know Benjamin Franklin thought the turkey was better than the eagle?” From the tone of her voice, that was the stupidest suggestion to come out of one of America’s founding fathers.

I admit she is an eagle lover; we always stop to say hello to the American bald eagle that lives in the Minnesota Zoo. But so am I. One of the reasons I wanted to include eagles in my novel, Up There, was because they are a great environmental survival story.

Franklin wrote in a 1784 letter: “For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country.” He maintained that the bird had “a bad moral character” because it “does not get its living honestly.” Apparently, Franklin based this judgment on the sight of an eagle stealing food from a hawk and determining that the eagle is “too lazy to fish for himself.”

I personally have seen eagles fish and am excited that I get the chance. When the bald eagle became the national symbol in 1782, there were an estimated 100,000 nesting eagles. By 1963, the eagle population had declined to 417 nesting pairs. The cause: lost of habitat and the use of the pesticide DDT, which the eagles absorbed from eating poisoned fish. The chemical made their egg shells too thin; the shells broke during incubation and eagle chicks failed to hatch.

In 1972, ten years after Rachel Carson sounded the environmental alarm in her book Silent Spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took a controversial step and banned the use of DDT. Thank goodness, it did and that we had the EPA. The eagle came back. A U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report counted 316,700 individual eagles in the lower 48 states in 2019.

In my novel Up There, environmentalist Arlen Eriksen notes, “When I was boy growing up here, I never saw an eagle. Now, eagles soar over the Mississippi River.” I have heard this remark from other Minnesotans recalling sad times when the skies were empty of eagles.

Eagles are special to all of us. Now on a winter day in areas where the Mississippi fails to freeze over, I can find the trees filled with majestic bald eagles, fluffed up against the cold and watching the water for fish. Thanks to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ EagleCam, I observed eagles building their nests and feeding their young. (This project took a hit in 2023 when the eagles’ nest became too heavy and crashed to the ground on a windy day. Neither the chick nor the nest survived. But the EagleCam is still recording because eagles remain in the area and even defend their territory from raccoons at night. Perhaps they will rebuild their nest one day.)

Environmental protection works and is important, not just for eagles but all wildlife. Please support our precious environment with your vote and your dollars.


Up There, which explores love, small-town life, the environment, and one woman’s quest to find herself, is available in paperback and eBook. This post is a “Story Behind the Story” of Up There. Find other inside peeks into my work in On Writing.