Read an excerpt from Tom Lang’s eagle:
Like most sub-adult males, I couldn’t wait to mate, but, like most sub-adult males, I did more waiting than mating. Just before my 5th birthday, when my head and tail turned as white as the Cathedral Peaks, I hit the eagle bars.
My first try was a wild roost in Skagway called the Gestation Station. I auditioned, unsuccessfully, for the Mating Game, a weekly show where a female with a blanket over her head chose among a gang of eagles after asking them silly questions.
My next stab was at the Talon Lock, a bar down by the Haines airport. It wasn’t much to look at–gravel on the floor, driftwood for stools, salmon skulls laying around the joint. But the Lock, as it was called, could get rough. One night some ravens came in and me and the fellas had to stomp them.
I even joined a mating service called Soar and Score, but it turned out to be a multi-level marketing scam set up by eagles from California.
Then I discovered the Breed and Brood, a classy club located in the Council Grounds Complex, a thick stand of cottonwoods in the center of the Bald Eagle Preserve. The Brood had an upscale debris decor and the best entertainment in the valley, including a female a cappella group, the Aves Marias. A comedian was on limb the night I met Leu.
“What do you call an osprey living in a valley of eagles?” he asked the crowd.
“What?” an eagle chittered from the back.
“Hungry.” said the comedian.
The crowd went nuts, flapping their wings, banging their tails on branches.
“Why did they want the turkey as the national symbol instead of us?”
“I give up, why?” an eagle said up front.
“Because turkeys are easier to kill.”
Flapping of wings, banging of tails.
Then Leu flew in and knocked me off my perch. She had big yellow eyes, nice plumage, sharp talons. She bounced over to the other side of my limb.
“Is this branch taken?” she asked sweetly.
“Uh…uh…uh…no,” I said clumsily, a woodpecker attacking my heart.
“I’m Leu,” she said.
I was finishing the Brood’s dinner special–spawned salmon tartar. The fish was aged to perfection with just a hint of early parasitic infestation. She looked down at my meal, held tightly between my talons.
“Did you know that a salmon has 79% eatable flesh, whereas a duck only has 68% eatable flesh?” she said.
“Well. no…I mean…yeah, I knew that.”
Not only was she pretty, she was smart, too. She grew up in Juneau, she said, and she had just finished her studies as a coveted Stalmaster Scholar at the Raptor Center in Sitka. She told me about the number of light sensitive cells, or photoreceptors, that determined the detail of vision for an eagle. We have 1 million per square millimeter of retina, she said, but tourists only have 200,000 in the same amount of space.
She told me how eagles perceive 5 basic colors, allowing us to see subtle tones and pick out prey hiding in grass and brush. Did I know, she asked, that our vision is 3 to 4 times greater than tourists and that we have both monocular and binocular vision?
I was mesmerized, molting at every word. The owner of the B & B interrupted us while Leu was explaining the different caloric counts between one hour of flapping and one hour of soaring and gliding (161 to 47).
“Are you two building a nest here? We’re closed. Beat it.”
I invited her down to the pier at Fort Seward in front of the little red building that used to be the telegraph office during the War Against the Eagles. We sat on the pilings and looked out at the water. A whale breeched the surface in the middle of the Lynn Canal. I turned to her.
“Hungry? I’ll go grab that sucker with my talons.”
“Oh, stop,” she said, placing her left wing over her bill to hide a giggle.
We talked and talked, opening up to each other. I told her of my fear of losing my feathers. She asked me if I thought she was fat. She felt she was putting on weight and had decided to consume less than 6 percent of her body weight each day as opposed to the average eagle’s consumption of 7 to 12 percent of its body weight.
During a pause in our conversation, I gently preened her feathers and pecked at her bill. She lowered her head, spread her wings and let out a soft, high-pitched note.
“Nice vocal display,” I said.
“Thank you very much,” she replied.
For the next few weeks I chased her through the sky. Talons touching, we practiced rolling together as we exchanged positions. Then, on a Thursday night at the Gestation Station, we won the Cartwheel Display when we performed a complicated, innovative dive highlighted by triple axle spins and whirls.
We talked about honeymooning in Glacier Bay, shopping for a nest site. Kids.