Laurel Braitman in The California Sunday Magazine:
Dutch Harbor is a small town on a small island far out in Alaska’s Aleutian chain, nearly 1,200 miles from Anchorage at the edge of the Bering Sea. It’s the most productive fishing port in the United States. Every winter the tiny population swells with thousands of people who come to work in the fish processing plants, on the crab boats, or out on the big cod and pollack trawlers. But they’re not the only ones trying their fortunes in town or out on the boats.
People in town call them Dutch Harbor pigeons. The rest of us call them bald eagles. In a community of just over 4,700 permanent residents, there live an estimated 500 to 800 eagles. They stare judgily down from light posts, peer intently into people’s windows, eat foxes and seagulls while perched in the trees next to the high school, and sit on rooflines like living weather vanes. Down at the docks, they swarm every boat that comes into port like some sort of Hitchcockian nightmare, fighting for scraps of bait, elbowing one another for prime positions, crowding together on top of crab pots, and squawk-cheeping their opinions.
We’re used to seeing our national bird as a valiant hero in nature documentaries plucking salmon from pristine streams, on the back of every dollar bill in our wallets, or on pretty much every federal seal — from the NSA and the CIA to the office of the president. But in Dutch, especially in winter when it’s harder for them to catch fish, you can see eagles for what they really are: hardy, scrappy scavengers.
Turns out that when you live with a federal symbol up close and personal, day in and day out, it’s a little harder to think of them as majestic.