Bird of the Week: Bald Eagle

Adopted as our national emblem in 1782–a year before the end of the Revolutionary War–the Bald Eagle has been a contentious symbol for nearly as long. Benjamin Franklin’s antipathy for the bird is well known: in a letter to his daughter, he declares that the Bald Eagle is “a rank coward… the little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district.” (The common and related story that Franklin wanted the Wild Turkey as national bird is a myth, though he did hail the turkey as “a Bird of Courage”.) The early American naturalist William Bartram, in a description that today reads almost as allegory, describes the Bald Eagle as “a large, strong, and very active bird, but an execrable tyrant… he supports his assumed dignity by rapine and violence, extorting unreasonable subsidy and tribute from all the feathered nations.” Sadly, the Bald Eagle’s national significance did not prevent its near extirpation; like many birds of prey, the Bald Eagle suffered severe population declines due to biomagnification of the pesticide DDT. Since the 1980s, however, their numbers have recovered substantially, to the point that they are now a frequent sight along rivers in central Texas (perhaps waiting for an osprey or kingfisher to rob).

Compiled by Owen Moorhead. Sources include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society.
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