Freedom birds: Bald eagle encounters on the St. Croix

Independence Day brings back memories of the raptors seen often along great American rivers.




2 minute read

Namekagon River (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

The second-most recent bald eagle I’ve seen on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway was sharing a treetop perch with a blue jay. Occasionally the jay would flap toward the eagle, perhaps its nest was nearby, but the eagle ignored the bluster and kept its eyes on the horizon.

A small group of paddlers paused in an eddy and watched the drama.

I cannot recall the last time I was on the river and did not see an eagle. They are woven right into its scenery with the water, the trees, and the sky.

It might be easy to take that for granted. But a recent tweet from a visitor to the area reminded me to appreciate our eagles.

According to his Twitter bio, Baltimore-based “Credible Threat” is a retired Army Ranger commander.

When I shared his tweet with St. Croix 360’s followers, we had this exchange.

National Park Service biologists have located more than 30 pairs of bald eagles nesting along the St. Croix and Namekagon Rivers. Blood samples from the the birds have turned up harmful substances including lead (fishing tackle and ammunition), mercury (distant coal plants and other sources), the banned pesticide DDT, and other harmful chemicals.

We can do better by our national bird.

Sometimes when we’re out there, we see immature eagles, brown and blotchy. And we always make the joke that you can tell they’re juvenile eagles by the bathroom jokes.

Juvenile bald eagle. (Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360)

In Latin, eagles are known as Haliaeetus leucocephalus. In Ojibwe they are migizi, and the Dakota call them Anunkasan.

Eventually, the eagle on the Namekagon a few weeks ago stretched its wings and adjusted its perch, perhaps a show of force to the jay, which had moved to a lower branch.

It seemed like a stalemate and I turned and paddled on downstream.

The most recent eagle I’ve seen was on the St. Croix around Marine. Uncharacteristically, it wasn’t perched on a branch about 50 feet above the water, but on a log right in the river.

My buddy Adam was in the bow, so he got the better photo before it flew off.

Photo by Adam Heathcote.


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Freedom birds: Bald eagle encounters on the St. Croix