7/10/14

Julie and the Eagles

Published in 2007; author Megan McDonald; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley

Plot

Julie and Ivy are at a park enjoying the flowers and butterflies when they hear a weak crying sound. After a bit of searching, they find a baby screech owl on the ground. They take it to a museum that runs a bird rescue, where a volunteer named Robin Young tells them they've done the right thing to bring the bird in as it appears to be suffering from DDT toxicity. There they meet a pair of bald eagles and their two eaglets. Robin explains that the adults are stressed by kept in captivity (they're injured) and having trouble caring for their young, but the rescue group probably won't be able to release them into the wild. There's a lot of work to be done to help the eagles readjust to life in the wild, and the volunteer-run, donation-funded organization simply doesn't have the money. Most likely the birds will go to a zoo.

Julie can't stand the idea of the birds spending their lives in a cage just for lack of funds. She and Tracy visit the construction site where the breeding pair was found and talk to the foreman. At first he's standoffish, explaining curtly that he's just trying to do his job of building homes that people need and an environmental study was already done, but Julie and Tracy persuade him to at least talk to his boss about helping. He muses that perhaps they could donate some scrap lumber to build the shelter required for releasing the eagles, but makes no promises. Julie also enlists the help of her class. The teacher wants the students to do something for Earth Day, and Julie's plan to help the eagles be released and bolster the tiny bald eagle population is readily agreed upon.

While she's excited that people are eager to help the all bald eagles once they've learned about the problem, Julie is worried about the particular eagles at the bird rescue. One of the eaglets died, and the other is listless. Under Robin's tutelage, Julie learns to feed the surviving eaglet with a bald eagle puppet, but it hardly shows any interest. Fortunately it rebounds a few days later, and by Earth Day is doing well. Julie and her classmates, plus Ivy, set up their booth at Golden Gate Park, where people can buy kits to make kites with pictures of eagles printed on them (donated by Julie's mom's store), with the money going toward the eagle release costs. Once sixty kites have been made--one for each breeding eagle in California--they fly them to raise awareness about the eagles. Julie even gets on TV for a few seconds! 

But even with the publicity, they're still $650 short of their goal. If they can't raise that money in a week, it'll be too late for the birds to be able to re-acclimate to the wild. Just then, a woman who was at the Earth Day event and saw the news report (and also talked to Julie and Ivy when they found the owl) comes in looking for a kite kit. Julie hands her one and, feeling awkward, mentions they're asking for a five-dollar donation for each one. The woman smiles and pulls out her checkbook and writes a check for five hundred dollars. Almost immediately after, the head of the construction company calls to donate lumber. The eagles can be released!

The timing works out perfectly for Julie, too: her tenth birthday is coming up. She invites Julie, T. J. the woman who donated the $500, and her family for a picnic to watch the eagles in their shelter. They're even treated to seeing the adults take some practice flights. A pretty good birthday present!


Looking Back

In the 1970s, people were starting to become more concerned about the long-term impact of pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency was only a few years old, but already making strides in preserving the natural beauty of the US. 1972 saw the advent of the Endangered Species Act and the banning of DDT (which had grown sadly ineffective against mosquitoes by then anyway) and lead bullets. While such measures did cause controversy, like forcing loggers and others out of work, they prevented animals like the bald eagle from going extinct. Nesting pairs of bald eagles in the contiguous US dipped as low as 412 in middle of last century, but in 2007 had rebounded enough to be removed entirely from list of threatened or endangered animals, and are now considered "least concern."


Misc

This book is dedicated to the author's sisters.

If you see a baby bird on the ground, you should almost always leave it alone. Not because the bird will smell like you causing the parent to reject it--most birds have a poor sense of smell. Odds are good that a parent is nearby, waiting for you to leave so it can retrieve the baby. Obviously if there's clear injury or a cat stalking about you'll want to take action, but usually it's best to leave the bird alone.

Robin volunteers at a bird rescue. Get it?

Partway through the book, the terminology switches from eaglet to chick. The latter is correct for a bird but the former is more accurate for an eagle specifically.

Speaking of bald eagles, have you ever heard one? They sound so wimpy! In movies and TV a red-tailed hawk cry is often used for a bald eagle, because it sounds much more majestic. Here's a bald eagle call and here's a red-tailed hawk. For the especially ridiculous, check out the Russian version of a bald eagle, the Steller's sea eagle, which sounds like a goose going through puberty. About ten seconds into this video they really get going, but I couldn't find a link to a video that sounds as funny as the Steller's sea eagles at my local zoo.

It really sucks that DDT caused problems for animals further up the food chain, and that mosquitoes grew resistant to it. Because they carry diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile virus, mosquitoes are widely regarded as the most dangerous animal. Malaria alone kills two to three million people each year.

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