Getting up close to the bald eagle


In 1782, the bald eagle beat out the wild turkey to become the national emblem of the United States.

In a more recent victory, the 3-foot-tall bird with the 6-foot wingspan escaped the clutches of extinction and soared back down to "threatened" status in Maryland, an improving classification due to proper management by places such as Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.

And to celebrate the existence of these and other birds of prey in the state, the Cambridge refuge, now in its 73rd year, is holding its sixth annual Eagle Festival, a free event that starts at 8 a.m. Saturday.

"Dorchester has one of the highest concentrations of nesting eagles in the country," said Tom Miller, a ranger at the reserve. "We have in excess of 80 nests. They are especially prominent in the winter. In addition to the ones that live here, you have migratory eagles from the north because there are so many resources for them here."

Miller said March is one of the best months to visit the refuge, as the birds have not yet started their trek back north and it is still too cold for insects to be a nuisance.

The festival, which normally draws a crowd of 1,500, begins with a bird walk where visitors can observe both native and migratory species, including eagles, Canada geese and ducks. There are activities scheduled every hour throughout the day, offering avid bird-watchers a beautiful 23,000-acre paradise to take in the sights and observe the roughly eight unique species of birds of prey the refuge hosts.

But the highlight of the day, Miller says, is the live bald eagle program at noon, where an informative session centered on the national symbol allows visitors to get up close and personal with the regal bird.

For those interested in learning just how the Maryland bald eagle, as well as several other bird species, has managed to survive and repopulate, Dr. Wayne Bell will discuss population changes and their relationship to the landscape of the Eastern Shore, exploring ways to reverse downward trends.

The festival also features events geared toward children. At 11:30 a.m., kids can construct paper puppets of the birds to take home, or at 2:30 p.m. build their own bird feeder. For the more inquisitive children, there is a hands-on examination of owl pellets where they can determine just what the nocturnal bird ate for dinner.

Miller says in addition to taking in the beauty of the birds and other animals present Saturday, a large part of the event's allure revolves around the beauty of Dorchester County.

"People can come here and take a look at what things looked like before human population inhabited land," he says. "This area is very historic and beautiful. Dorchester County is the least populated county in Maryland so it maintains a strong nature orientation."

Saturday's festival will run 8 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, 2145 Key Wallace Drive in Cambridge, at 410-228-2677 or visit

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