Perhaps no symbol is more synonymous with the United States than the American bald eagle.
This majestic bird with sharp eyes and an impressive wingspan became a national icon on June 20, 1782, when Congress approved a Great Seal for the United States.
The seal was based on a design by Charles Thompson of a bald eagle, bearing a blue shield with 13 red and white stripes and holding a banner in its beak with the Latin phase “E Pluribus Unum” (meaning “Over many, one”) for the first American colonies that united to become one nation. The final version of the design shows the bald eagle holding an olive branch (representing peace) and arrows (representing war) in his greenhouses.
Although it is virtually unimaginable for an American today not to recognize the bald eagle as an iconic symbol of our nation, there was at least one Founding Father who was less than thrilled to see the raptor play this role of auspicious.
BEN FRANKLIN AND THE EAGLE
Rumor has it that the famous American statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the wild turkey to serve as the national emblem instead of the bald eagle.
Well, not exactly, according to the Franklin Institute, a Philadelphia-based science museum that houses the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial.
Yes, it’s quite true that Franklin wasn’t exactly happy with the choice of the bald eagle as the national bird. However, he didn’t specifically say he wanted to replace it with wild turkey. This myth originated from a letter Franklin wrote on January 26, 1784, to his daughter Sally (Mrs. Sarah Bache.)
In the letter, Franklin thought he thought the bald eagle didn’t quite live up to his idea of a brave, independent representative of the young, new country, who had fought and won a war of independence. of Great Britain.
Here is an excerpt from Benjamin Franklin’s letter: “For my part, I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. It is a bird of bad character. He does not earn his living honestly. You may have seen him perched on a dead tree by the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the work of the fisher hawk; and when this diligent bird has finally taken a fish and carries it to its nest for the support of its mate and its young, the bald eagle pursues it and takes it from it.
“With all this injustice he is never in good standing but like those of men who live by sharpening and stealing he is generally poor and often very ugly. Besides, he’s a rank coward: the little Bird King, no bigger than a Sparrow, boldly attacks him and drives him out of the neighborhood. He is therefore by no means a fitting emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have hunted all the royal birds of our country…
“I’m not unhappy that the figure isn’t known as a bald eagle, but looks more like a turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and with him a true Native of America… He is moreover, although a little conceited and silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attacking a Grenadier of the British Guards who presumably invaded his farmyard with a red coat.
Thus, although Franklin “defended the honor of the turkey against the bald eagle, he did not propose that it become one of the most important symbols of America”, underlines the Franklin Institute.
Like the country it represents, the bald eagle has had its ups and downs. At one point, the bald eagle came dangerously close to extinction.
In 1961, then-President John F. Kennedy wrote in a letter to the National Audubon Society that “our nation’s founding fathers made a fitting choice in choosing the bald eagle as the nation’s emblem. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird is a fitting symbol of America’s strength and freedom. But as citizens today, we will lose our confidence if we allow the eagle to disappear.
In 1978, the federal government granted protection to raptors under endangered species laws. Today, thanks to conservation efforts, the bald eagle has made a comeback, according to Katelyn Dotson, curator of ornithology at the Pigeon Forge-based American Eagle Foundation (AEF).
Bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007, but they are still protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Dotson says.
“While the bald eagle has made a remarkable comeback, there is still work to be done,” says Jessica Hall, the foundation’s chief executive. “Trash and debris continue to pollute ecosystems across the United States, especially in parks, roads, rivers, lakes and streams. Fishing lines, hooks, rodenticides and household trash pose a serious threat to our amazing bald eagle and other species.
The AEF is dedicated to the preservation and rehabilitation of the American Bald Eagle and other birds of prey.
Each year, the AEF commemorates the anniversary of the auspicious honor of the bald eagle being selected for the Great Seal by celebrating American Eagle Day on June 20.
EDUCATION AND REHABILITATION FACILITY
The foundation is currently overseeing construction of a 57-acre, state-of-the-art American Eagle Foundation Education Center and Rehabilitation Hospital, slated to open later this year in Pigeon Forge.
This new facility will provide visitors with a space to see and learn about our nation’s proud symbol, as well as enjoy walking trails, children’s play areas and interactive exhibits.
Since its founding in 1985, the AEF has released more “180 bald eagles into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and successfully rehabilitated many other birds of prey,” Hall said.
“In our future raptor rehabilitation clinic, our ability to care for injured birds of prey will reach new heights,” Hall said.
If you happen to find a bald eagle in the wild that appears to be injured, Dotson advises to be cautious and observe the bird for a while.
“A lot of times birds look like they can’t fly because they’ve just eaten a big meal.” said Dotson. “However, if a bird has been on the ground or hasn’t moved for several hours or a day, you can contact a local rehabilitator or vet, and they should be able to direct you.”
If the bird is located in the East Tennessee area, Dotson says you can contact the American Eagle Foundation for help with injured or sick bald eagles.
“We’ll make sure you get the help you need. Don’t try to pick up or catch an eagle on your own, as they can be dangerous,” says Dotson.
The American Eagle Foundation number is 865-429-0157.
So, was Benjamin Franklin’s assessment of the bald eagle correct?
Dotson agrees that bald eagles are opportunistic predators who will absolutely take the risk of grabbing an “easy meal” from another animal that has already captured its prey.
If that animal objects very strongly to stealing its meal, Dotson says the bald eagle will usually give up rather than fight about it.
She went on to note that a bald eagle sometimes loses its nesting territory to great horned owls, “simply because the owl is more stubborn.”
FACTS ABOUT THE BALD EAGLE
Here are some additional interesting facts about the American bald eagle:
- A bald eagle typically places its large nesting area in trees near water sources, such as lakes or rivers.
- The bald eagle’s breeding range spans much of North America.
- Female bald eagles are generally larger than males.
- The wingspan of a bald eagle typically ranges from around 6 to almost 8 feet in width.
- A powerful bird of prey, the bald eagle can dive at speeds of up to 100 mph.
- Bald eagles can live to be over 30 years old and weigh up to 12 pounds.
Dotson also noted that many people may not know that the bald eagle got its name from the Old English word “bald” meaning “bald.”
Bald eagles don’t get their white heads or feathers until they’re 4 to 5 years old, Dotson says.
“Before that, they are brown in color all over, indicating their immaturity,” she adds. “They will get bits of white over these years and become what we call marbling, with white and brown stripes and bits on their heads and tails.
“Their beak is also black and it will slowly change to a characteristic yellow over those five years,” says Dotson. “A lot of people think the immature bald eagle is a ‘golden eagle,’ but that’s not true.”