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Bald Eagle America's National Symbol

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By Saffron Blaze - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

Loyal, proud, strong, and fiercely independent: Why the bald eagle is our national symbol

There’s hardly a person alive who has never seen a picture — but pictures don’t come even close to doing this majestic bird justice. Pictures fail to convey its impressive wingspan of up to 8 feet, which would make any person feel small, after all. Pictures wouldn’t tell you that this bird can reach 30 miles an hour in flight, and as many as 100 when diving. 

Pictures don’t tell you that these fiercely loyal birds, who have been known to live to the ripe old age of 50, mate for life, always nesting in the same place; the place they call home. That, we would say, makes them true patriots. 

Haliaeetus leucocephalus, the bald eagle, is one of a kind and home only to North America. 

Any look at its magnificent snowy feathers will immediately tell you that the bald eagle is not, in fact, bald. It is, however, relentlessly bold. As skilled hunters with striking and strong talons, bald eagles prefer fish, but don’t shy away from waterfowl and smaller mammals either — and they’re strong, able to lift and carry prey of up to half their weight!

It is not difficult to see why the bald eagle became our national symbol and pride, but how exactly did that happen?

While the Founding Fathers did choose the bald eagle as an embodiment of strength, courage, independence, and ultimately freedom, designing the official seal of the new nation was not a quick or easy process. Just as young bald eagles take up to five years to shed their juvenile markings and emerge as the sublime bird we all know and love, the finalized seal came to be six years after the first efforts began. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams all worked on the design, along with two separate committees, and finally secretary of Congress Charles Thomson. 

The eagle landed on the official Great Seal, with its wings stretched out, in 1782. Its image started to grace coins a few years later, and today, it watches over all official documents. The bald eagle is featured on the flag of the President of the United States and the mace of the House of Representatives. Of course, the bald eagle also nobly accompanies our soldiers on the battlefield, wherever they go. 

Though it’s probably not true that Benjamin Franklin passionately lobbied against this proud bird as our national symbol, he did indeed regard the bald eagle as one of “poor moral character” (and preferred the turkey), on account of the fact that the bald eagle is known to, on occasion, steal kills from other predators. We could just as easily argue that this ingenuity shows its strength of character. 

In recent history, the bald eagle was forced to the brink of extinction by hunters and pesticides, but today, its numbers are rising. If you have the opportunity to see the bald eagle for yourself, some of the best places to do so are the Klamath Basin (Oregon and California), Starved Rock State Park in Illinois, and the North Platte National Wildlife Refuge in Nebraska. Seeing the bald eagle in flight for yourself leaves no doubt — America’s bird represents freedom. 

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