Celebrating Rachel Carson’s Life and Legacy


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] http://www.fws.gov/midwest/eagle/population/chtofprs.html  Retrieved on May 20, 2013