And to think that Benjamin Franklin wanted the turkey to be our national bird! The bald eagle is a majestic bird. Haliaeetus leucocephalus, or what is commonly known as the bald eagle, was established as a national symbol when it was included on the Great Seal by the Continental Congress on June 20, 1782.
Bald Eagles are found only in North America. They are classified within the Accipitriformes order and the Accipitridae family. That places them within the same category of other birds of prey including vultures, buzzards, hawks, kites, and other eagles. There are actually two types of bald eagles. Haliaeetus leucocephalus alascanus, or birds formerly known as “northern bald eagles,” are found north of 40 degrees latitude. Their population is concentrated in Alaska, but they sometimes migrate south of 40 degrees latitude. They are a bit larger than the other group of bald eagles that are found in North America. Haliaeetus leucocephalus leucocephalus, or birds formerly known as “southern bald eagles” are concentrated in the Southern United States and Baja California. The eagles lost their northern and southern differentiations when it was found that both groups sometimes migrated to the other side of the 40th latitude.
Bald eagles are known for their fierce look yet their “lifting power” is limited to approximately 4 pounds. Most of us are familiar with their high pitch cry. Their resourcefulness as a scavenger is one of the reasons Franklin suggested the bald eagle was not suitable to be a national symbol: “I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country, he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly, you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to its nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him.” Bald eagles also are looked down upon some because they sometimes eat dead animals.
Bald eagles are actually brown in color until they mature to between 4 and 5 years of age. It is then that they develop their distinctive white feathered head. Their wingspans stretch up to 8 feet. They weigh between 10 and 14 pounds, and their relatively light weight frame is caused because their bones are actually hollow. They can sore at altitudes up to 10,000 feet. Their lifespan is between 20 and 30 years. They are thought to mate for life, and they construct nests which may as much as one ton.
Although there were estimates of up to 500,000 Bald Eagles living during the 1700’s, there numbers dwindled to less than 500 nesting pairs at one point during the 1960’s. That number rose to nearly 10,000 in 2006 as a result of conservation efforts. Bald Eagles were then removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants list in 2007. They are currently protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty, as well as the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The American Eagle Foundation offers an “Adopt An Eagle” program which you can learn more about here: http://www.americaneaglefoundation.com/donate/adopt-special-eagles.php
I have placed a variety of pictures of bald eagles on this page: http://www.bingoforpatriots.com/promoting-patriotism-project/patriotic-symbols-of-america/bald-eagle/ Please take a look and pass along other pictures I can share with others.
Please take a moment to be thankful for the magnificent bird which has become a national symbol. Although Benjamin Franklin may not have approved of them, I believe that watching a bald eagle in flight will truly remind you of What IS Right With America!
Susan C. Rempel, Ph.D.