The Great Backyard Bird Count has started—and we hope you’re participating! It only takes 15 minutes. Join in, keep your tally handy and come back Tuesday through Thursday and tell us the birds you saw. You'll get a chance to win a lovely Charley Harper poster in our giveaway. International families welcome to join, no need to have a blog. Read more about the giveaway here.
Our backyard birds are very beautiful. On a typical spring day, we see glorious red cardinals and charming chickadees. A pair of blue jays give fierce chase as another bird flies too close. From the tree tops, mockingbirds sing exquisitely.
Most birds that we see near our home, while fascinating in their own right, are hardly ‘rare.’ So we were very, very surprised—as were all our friends—to discover a pair of bald eagles nesting just half a mile from here.
Although we live minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. A powerful river, the Potomac, rolls past this city, and in recent years the river has made a bit of a comeback (cleaner, more full of fish). Here the river is quite wide, with steep banks lined with tall trees (tulip poplars and sycamores) perfect for a large bird of prey thinking about starting a family.
And so they have. This nest isn't new—it's likely several years old—and for the past few weeks, a pair of bald eagles have been spotted adding to it. We heard about the nest from a dear friend and fellow nature-lover. Since that day, we’ve taken several family walks to see these impressive birds.
Typical of bald eagles, the mama and papa take turns at the nest. We can’t be sure, but it seems likely there are eggs they’re guarding and keeping warm. Other times, both birds leave the nest for extended periods, sitting on large branches nearby, staring out over the water.
Perhaps the most remarkable part is that their stand of trees is in the median of a very busy highway. Thousands of cars roar past daily as commuters travel to and fro. Overhead, commercial jets fly past about every 10 minutes. Peaceful and bucolic, this is not.
There is more than a bit or irony, sharing our bald eagle sightings in honor of the return of backyard birds. But this nest lies next to a neighborhood—people pass by, walking their dogs or taking their morning jog, day after day. When I stop and ask someone on the trail if they’ve been watching the eagles, as often as not, they say they’ve never seen the massive nest nor spied the pair of huge birds.
I’ve pondered what we’ve learned from our visits to the nest. If someone asked, I’d say, nature isn’t always this showy. Much of its beauty is far more obscure. The very best place for families to start appreciating the outdoors is with the tiny ant, the glimmering web, or the flitting of the backyard wren.
Our eyes are first opened by the small, quiet bits of everday nature. Only then can most of us see the ostentatious when we happen upon it.
For a closer view of other nesting bald eagles, visit these eagle cams:
Blackwater Refuge (Cambridge, Maryland) (this one shows the nest both day and night)