Eagle at education center turns 37
Celebration held for Tayac, injured 27 years ago
The Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center celebrated an important birthday Saturday, although the guest of honor was happy just to get his fish.
Tayac, a 37-year-old bald eagle, is the oldest feathered inhabitant of the environmental center, having lived there for more than a quarter of a century.
Tayac hatched along the shore of the Potomac River in 1979, one of only four or five bald eagles born that year in Charles County to hatch and leave the nest. The population had been decimated by the use of the pesticide
DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, which built up in the raptors’ systems leading to fatally thinned or nonexistent egg shells, leading to bald eagles becoming an endangered species, Mike Callahan, center naturalist, said.
“It did its job at the time, which was to kill bugs, but it also stayed in the tissues of the prey, which … builds up the higher you go in the food chain,” Callahan said.
DDT was banned in the 1972 but at that time, the bald eagle, symbol of the United States, was nearly extinct in the region surrounding the nation’s capitol.
Tayac, like the other hatchlings born at that time, was given an identification band, which was how he was identified when he was found in 1989.
Tayac had been shot and was found on Billingsley Road, Callahan said. He was sent to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Virginia. The bones in his right wing had been shattered, however, and Tayac would never again soar with other eagles.
He was returned to Charles County and has lived at the education center for 27 years, educating generations of Charles County children about raptors.
The oldest known wild bald eagle was recently discovered to have lived to the age of 38, and so it is unknown how long Tayac’s lifespan in captivity may be, but 37 is a long lifespan by bald eagle standards, Callahan said.
Approximately 40 people attended the hatchday celebration and open house at Nanjemoy, and a raptor demonstration was held with the education center’s younger avians, including a four-and-a-half year old bald eagle who is blind in its left eye.
All of the birds have permanent injuries or disabilities that would prevent them from surviving long in the wild, Callahan said.
The festivities also included hiking, bird watching, a walking trail scavenger hunt and other activities.
NCEEC is an educational site within Charles County Public Schools, used for outdoor environmental field trips, particularly for fifth grade students, and other environmental education opportunities.
The guest of honor was nonplussed by the attention and the cake, but he did receive a special fish for his “hatchday” celebration.
Tayac is a Piscataway word for high chieftain, and the bald eagle was named in honor of Turkey Tayac, Piscataway Indian Nation and Tayac Territory chieftain of Southern Maryland who was a prominent figure in the Native American rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
His son, Billy Redwing Tayac, the current chieftain of the Piscataway Indian Nation and Tayac Territory, was on-hand for the celebration of the bald eagle’s hatching day.
“We’re extremely honored to have this eagle named after us,” Billy Redwing Tayac said.
He said the bald eagle is viewed as sacred by his people.
“The reason why they’re sacred is the birds fly very high, their feathers touch heaven. This was before there was such a thing as airplanes. The eagle of course flew highest, and that’s the reason why, if somebody did something very brave, we don’t reward them a medal, we reward them an eagle feather,” he said. “It’s the highest honor.”
Tayac is greeted by well-wishers outside his enclosure at the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center Saturday. Tayac turns 37 this year, and has been at the center for 27 years after being shot near Billingsley Road.
Tayac the bald eagle in his enclosure at the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center Saturday. Tayac turns 37 this year, and has been at the center for 27 years after being shot near Billingsley Road.
Piscataway Chief Billy Redwing Tayac speaks at the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center Saturday in recognition of the 37th “hatchday” of Tayac the bald eagle. The bald eagle was named in honor of Billy Redwing Tayac’s father, Turkey Tayac, a renowned Native American rights leader.
Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Center naturalist Mike Callahan holds a four-and-a-half year old bald eagle during a raptor demonstration. The center held a “hatchday” celebration for another bald eagle inhabitant, Tayac, who turned 37 years old.