“A bird of bad moral character”
Species: Bald Eagle, or Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Family: Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
Star sign: Cancer
Ideal Date: Invading foreign nations for their oil
Bald Eagles are one of the most well-known and recognizable birds in the United States. As our national bird, they appear on our currency, our government seals, and our patriotic gas station knick-knacks, serving as a symbol of liberty and justice for all. These grand, powerful, majestic predators have long been significant to America and her people, and they have more than earned their esteemed reputation.
Long before Europeans set foot in America, native tribes across the country held the Bald Eagle in high esteem; the bird appears in the creation myths of numerous tribes and is often considered to be sacred. The eagle’s feathers have great spiritual significance in many cultures (today, laws protecting Bald Eagles have exceptions which allow native Americans to obtain and circulate eagle feathers). It wasn’t until 1782 that this feathery friend acquired its current job as Symbol of the U.S. Of course even back then the bird had its detractors, including Benjamin Franklin, who wrote, “For my own part I wish 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.” Despite Franklin’s objections, the Bald Eagle was chosen for a reason. It has a striking, dominating presence and the bearing of a king — perhaps the fledgling Continental Congress wanted to channel that energy while trying to figure out how our government was going to work.
Their status as important American birds has merited Bald Eagles more protection under the law than some of their avian brethren. The Eagle Act of 1940 protects Bald and Golden Eagles from human disturbance, and the Lacey Act of 1900 makes it a felony to possess Bald Eagle nests or eggs. Even so, in the mid-20th century, Bald Eagles came close to extinction largely because of the use of DDT in pesticides. Thankfully, lawmakers banned DDT in 1972, and the Eagles made a spectacular comeback; their numbers have been increasing ever since, and in 2007 they were moved to the category of “Least Concern.” We love to see it!
If you want to see one of these remarkable raptors, you’re in luck! Right now, there are two of them on campus, so keep an eye out! Their dark brown feathers, white head and tail, and yellow beak are immediately recognizable and impossible to mistake for anything else. On the other hand, their call is a slightly underwhelming series of high-pitched trills, or sometimes a seagull-esque squawk (the iconic scream heard so often in film actually belongs to the Red Tailed Hawk). These fine friends can be spotted perched near the tops of trees, but if you’re especially lucky, you’ll get to see one soaring languidly through the air, as if the clouds are its kingdom. With a wingspan of seven feet, the breathtaking sight of their colossal silhouette gliding across the sky must be seen to be fully appreciated. If Benjamin Franklin saw one of these big boys in action, he wouldn’t have been nearly as derisive.