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Celebrating Rachel Carson’s Life and Legacy

2013 May 23


By Kathy Sykes 

“…spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.”

—Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Rachel Carson. Image courtesy of the Rachel Carson Council.

Flapping wings of osprey and eagles wish Rachel Carson a happy 106th birthday. They have much to celebrate this May 27th.  Just 50 years ago, the bald eagle seemed headed for extinction. DDT, an organochlorine insecticide, broke the hearts of mother ospreys who unintentionally crushed the thinned eggshells of their unhatched chicks.  Eagles were also disappearing. “By 1963, only 417 pairs were still raising young in the lower 48 states.” [i]

Fortunately, Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was released and described how DDT was poisoning birds and wildlife and endangering human health. Silent Spring planted the seeds of the environmental movement and captured the attention of President John F. Kennedy.

A decade later, two seminal events changed the course of history, saving birds and other wildlife from the brink of extinction. First, EPA banned DDT. Next, the Endangered Species Act was passed.  By 2006, the nation was home to nearly 10,000 successful breeding pairs of bald eagles. [ii]

Ospreys, a “close cousin” of eagles and other birds of prey, live close to waterways such as estuaries, reservoirs, rivers, salt marshes and ponds because their diet consists primarily of fish. A pair, Steve and Rachel, is nesting on Hog Island in Maine. You can become an indoor birder and watch for the chicks to hatch on a live web cam.

Appropriately named after Rachel Carson, Rachel will sit on three healthy eggs incubating them until they hatch.  I have become addicted and peek in daily. So far, I have seen brown-and-white-speckled eggs and both parents-in-waiting. I can see the wind fluff Rachel’s feathers and feel her comfort on rainy days as raindrops are repelled, sliding off or balling up on her back of oily feathers. Longing to hear her call, I found recordings on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site. (I love the internet!)

Mother osprey and chick. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

Mother osprey and chick. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service image

The National Audubon Society’s 10 tips show what we can all do to help the billions of birds migrating north. I plan to join the Hummingbirds at Home project and become a citizen scientist, pledge to curb my cats, drink coffee made from shade-grown beans, and forgo pesticides.

If Emily Dickinson were alive today, she surely would be a citizen scientist. I’d like to think she would have entered a poem and picture of feathers into the 7th Annual Rachel Carson contest.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.  —Emily Dickinson

Your intergenerational team has until June 10, 2013 to jointly submit an original song, poem, essay, photo, or dance. Happy bird-day, Rachel. We thank you for your dedicated work, your creativity, and leaving with us a “sense of wonder.”

About the Author: Kathy Sykes has been working for the EPA since 1998 where she focuses on older adults and the built environment and healthy communities.  In 2012, she joined the Office of Research and Development and serves as Senior Advisor for Aging and Sustainability.


[i] Science 22 June 2007: Vol. 316 no. 5832 pp. 1689-1690 DOI: 10.1126/science.316.5832.1689 Can the Bald Eagle Still Soar After It Is Delisted? Erik Stokstad

[ii]  Retrieved on May 20, 2013

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    May 23, 2013

    Rachel Carson’s : All-Round Lady…..

    Happy bird-day, Rachel…., said Kathy Sykes in the end of this article. Your daughters and also the granddaughters always remember you and continuously give shape to your longing for, environmentalism…

  2. Debbie Lou, Active Living Research permalink
    May 23, 2013

    Kathy- what a lovely piece. I really enjoyed reading it and will definitely check out the web cam. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Yabing Nollet permalink
    May 24, 2013

    Silent Spring inspired me to get into the field of environmetal chemistry. Thank you, Rachel carson.

  4. diana hodson permalink
    May 27, 2013

    my heroine, yet unaware of how long ago that was when i read her brilliant “Silent Spring” & “Since Silent Spring” — being into natural history/conservation, theese laid down all the facts for me, & i then went onto study for degree in Environmental Sciences , — Happy to’ve found this site ,

  5. Ibrahim Khan permalink
    May 27, 2013

    A celebration of a celebrated and iconic authority!

  6. Bill N DC permalink
    May 27, 2013

    Great article about a great lady!

  7. aferster permalink*
    June 4, 2013

    Breaking news!
    The first Hog Island osprey chick hatched, and a second is well underway! See more at:!/live-cams/player/live-osprey-cam

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