HOLLYWOOD WOULD have scripted a different ending for the saga of Martha, the bald eagle who with her mate, George, captured the imagination of the Washington area. But rather than feeling sad for what has been lost, we prefer to focus on the lessons that this improbable pair imparted about the beauty and value of the natural world.
Martha was put to sleep this week after veterinarians wisely concluded that it would be cruel to keep her alive in captivity following injuries that would have prevented her from ever flying again. Martha and George were so named by workers building a replacement for the Wilson Bridge, which the two bald eagles nested near in spite of the noise and commotion. They became mascots, and a public eager to imbue animals with human qualities saw love and loyalty as they stayed together and, over the years, produced 16 eaglets. Martha was injured in an attack by another bird in April, and her struggle to recover and rejoin George became national news.
That attack epitomizes both the good and bad news about the state of bald eagles today. Once threatened with extinction, the bald eagles' population has rebounded to a point where some are suggesting they no longer need to be on the endangered species list. The eagle that attacked Martha is a sign of that increase; the battle, which was over territory, is evidence of the loss of habitat to urban encroachment.
George and Martha showed thousands of commuters a better side to a lousy ride over a bridge. As a result, many drove away with a new respect for wildlife.