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American History of the Bald Eagle

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  • American History of the Bald Eagle

    bald_eagle.jpgThe bald eagle is the bird that is always recognized as the national symbol of the United States of America, appearing on the country's seal.

    Its Latin scientific name Haliaeetus leucocephalus; is broken down as follows - hali = salt, aeetus = eagle, leuco = white, cephalis = head; therefore, bald eagles are not really bald, but "white headed." The adult is mainly brown with a white head and tail. It can have a wing span of nearly 8 feet, lives around 25 years and is found in every state except Hawaii. At one point, bald eagles were on the brink of extinction in America, but its populations recovered and they were removed from the list of endangered species on July 12, 1995, and transferred to the list of threatened species. They were removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in the lower 48 states on June 28, 2007.


    A brief look at the history of the bald eagle reveals an unproven legend that Benjamin Franklin had initially pushed for America's bird to be the wild turkey. Even though the bald eagle was thought to be a bird of bad moral character, Franklin's suggestion was voted down and the bald eagle was chosen as America's symbol. The founding fathers of the country were quite fond of comparing America with the Roman Republic, which also used eagle imagery.

    Whether or not the legend about Franklin's support for the wild turkey is true, his dislike for the bald eagle was seen in a letter he dispatched to his daughter that stated: For my own part I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly...Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District.

    Prior to the bald eagle being made America's seal, it was also a sacred bird in some north American cultures, and its feathers are a main part of many religious and spiritual customs among native American Indians. Eagles are considered spiritual messengers between gods and the Indian people. Many pow wow dancers use the claws of the eagles as part of their attire and its feathers are often used in traditional ceremonies. Today, American Indians may be given an eagle feather on an event such as graduation from college.The Pawnee tribe considered the eagle as a symbol of fertility because its nests are built high off the ground and because they are extremely protective of their young. Federal laws stipulate that only individuals of certifiable native American ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain or possess bald eagle feathers for religious or spiritual use. The constitutionality of these laws has been questioned by American Indian groups on the basis that it violates the First Amendment by affecting the ability to practice their religion freely.

    I am personally happy about the bald eagle being chosen as our country's bird, as I would not want America's seal to be associated with a turkey. Imagine the ribbing we would take today if that was our seal! I hope you have enjoyed this little bit of history about one of America's famous symbols.
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