So today is National American Eagle Day or National Bald Eagle Day. This is the day that various organizations set aside to help raise awareness about our national symbol–the Bald Eagle.
The history behind the bald eagle being chosen for the national symbol is slightly humorous. In case you haven’t heard some of the history, here is a very condensed version:
Since most countries adopt an animal for their national symbol, the Continental Congress wanted to do so as well, but the first national seal was actually Lady Liberty holding a shield. Since that wasn’t what they wanted, they made inquires with others for thoughts and the first ‘choice/suggestion/selection’ was actually the golden eagle.
Again, the Continental Congress wasn’t happy with the suggestion–mainly because the golden eagle could also be found in Europe and therefore it wouldn’t do. They then looked to ‘native birds’ and decided on the bald eagle (though the turkey was also suggested as it was also ‘native’).
The bald eagle was ‘fierce-looking’ and the fledgling country thought it was a better representation of the country to the world–therefore it was selected. Even after the war was over, there was discussion on whether to keep the bald eagle as the emblem or think of a new one–Benjamin Franklin kept rooting for the turkey.
This story does raises a fairly good historical question–if we had managed to breakaway from England without war, what animal would have been chosen as the national symbol–would it still have been the eagle, or maybe the turkey, or maybe something else?
So that is the brief history behind how the bald eagle became our national bird and symbol.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t had really ‘clear skies’ over the past three hundred years.
By the 1950s both the bald eagle and the golden eagle were at risk of becoming extinct. This was due to a combination of over hunting (young bald eagles happen to look a lot like golden eagles, so they were often killed ‘by mistake’–hunters thought they were bagging young golden eagles), pesticide use (DTT poisoned fish led to eagles laying eggs with very thin shells, which ended up at times getting crushed from the parents sitting on them), and habitat loss.
Once DTT was banned, and the eagles placed on the endangered species list their populations started to make a recovery. In case of the bald eagle, they were downgraded from endangered to threatened in 1995, and then in 2007 they were removed entirely from both the endangered species and the threatened species lists as their populations had recovered enough. They’re usually under state protection these days.
Though in recent years, there had been a die off of bald eagles in the southeastern portion of the US, but that has finally been traced to a toxic algae bloom in the waters (something scientists are now keeping an eye on).
I enjoy catching site of the bald eagle as it soars over Boomer Lake throughout the year, and I also enjoyed watching the bald eagles up at Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota sit on top of the Norway pines as they watched the waters waiting for their next meal to come closer to the surface.
Have you seen a bald eagle in the wild?