This story is the eighth in a series by Richard Spinney about his experiences transporting injured and sick wild birds for Avian Haven bird rehabilitation center in Freedom.
Have you ever looked back at one of your life’s events and examined how one event came about? What things had to happen beforehand for that event to take place? This is a case in point.
One Saturday, I decided to take my camera to church. I have no idea why, but probably because around Easter, the sun shines through the stained glass window over the doors and, near sunset, it shines on the crucifix over the altar. It makes for a very pretty picture.
Had I not taken my camera to church, many of the following events would not have happened. Other events would have happened, but there would have been different outcomes. So, let me explain.
At that same Mass, there was a 7-year-old boy who would receive his First Communion. He had been sick when others had received their First Communion attended by the Bishop. For the event, all their pictures had been taken. So I asked the boy’s mother (his dad was working) if she would like me to take his picture, and she agreed.
I think it was a great picture that I took that day. It was from slightly behind and to one side of the priest as he held the Host above the little boy’s outstretched hands. The boy’s mother and her sister were in a pew in the background and slightly out of focus. I emailed the picture to the mom, and we had a good chat about my volunteering for Avian Haven.
I described to her how I had seen the release of a bald eagle and how majestic the bird was. In return, she shared a video of a bald eagle that her husband had taken with his cell phone while fishing. In the video, a bald eagle flew down to the water’s surface, snatched up a fish, then flew off.
“Did you see the feather?” she asked me, referring to the video.
I had not. She told me to look again, closely, at the eagle as he flew away with the fish. And there it was: the feather floating down into the water.
“My husband found it and gave it to our son as a present,” she said.
My heart sank. Have you ever learned something that you wish you hadn’t?
I knew that it was illegal to possess a bald eagle feather without a federal permit. Should I say something? The little boy was so happy with that feather. What if somebody had a grudge against a member of the family and found out about the feather? I decided it was up to me to tell them about the potential consequences of having an eagle feather, but it was their ultimate decision of what to do.
In preparation for this article, I contacted a special agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. He explained that when the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act was signed into law, it stated that $5,000 is the fine for owning a bald eagle feather. But since then, an additional act was passed that increased the fine for all federal Class A misdemeanors to $100,000. And possessing a bald feather is a federal Class A misdemeanor.
The parents left the decision to the little boy about what to do with the feather. He decided to do the right thing: to turn it over to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Service, and they would send it to The National Eagle Repository. We all met at the DIF&W building in Bangor, where the little boy handed the feather to a uniformed member of the department. She in turn gave him some articles from the DIF&W and Maine Warden Service. She told him how proud she was of him.
I know the little boy was sad to turn over the feather, but I noticed that both the dad and the little boy seemed to stand a little taller as they walked away, with the father’s hand on his son’s shoulder.
Richard Spinney lives in Brewer with his wife of 48 years. He retired from the U.S. Coast Guard after 20 years’ service, sold real estate for 23 years while also teaching adult ed algebra for 10 years, was a contributing editor of The Maine Genealogist for a few years and the treasurer of The Maine Genealogical Society for 14 years. He has volunteered for Avian Haven since the summer of 2016.