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The Bald Eagle is Overrated | Why is the Bald Eagle the national symbol for the US?

I know what you're thinking. Are these people flocking around? Trust me, you need to read to the end...

Bald Eagles are just feathered vultures
Bald Eagle aka Glorified Vulture

Before you find some weird level of hostility toward us for the facts we are about to present to you, please consider joining our flock!

The Bald Eagle was selected as the national emblem of the United States in 1782. In a famous myth, Benjamin Franklin argued against Congress selecting this bird by offering the Wild Turkey as an alternative. The truth is even funnier, as Benjamin Franklin described the Bald Eagle on the Great Seal as appearing to be a turkey. And while the Wild Turkey might seem like a joke of a national emblem, the Bald Eagle is not much more dignified.


Before we propose a new emblem for the United States, let's learn a little more about the Bald Eagle and its indecorums.


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Bald Eagle Range

Bald Eagle Range Map
Bald Eagle Range Map

The Bald Eagle ranges across most of North America. They are fairly common throughout Alaska, Canada, and the lower 48 states. There are few to no records in Hawaii. The extensive range is a plus for representing the US, but not being a regular species in Hawaii definitely loses the Bald Eagles some points as our bird representative.

 

If you want to take photos of this... symbol, we recommend a proper zoom camera.

 

Bald Eagle Fossil Record

The Bald Eagle has been found in sites that date to prehistoric times. You may think that a species established for over a million years is a positive point for recognition, but I'm going to play devil's advocate and say it is NOT. When you are choosing a car, do you want an old, rusty automobile? No! You want that new, upgraded model with the heated seats. And trust me, the species we are going to recommend at the end of this post has all the bells, horns, and whistles.


Bald Eagle Habitat

Bald Eagles typically nest in mature forests with some habitat edge. Okay, that IS a positive point for recognition. Who does not love the forest for the trees? However, the Bald Eagle typically prefers to nest in areas with minimal human disturbance and development. Booo! We want a national symbol that wants to hang out with humans! Humans are the best! We are way too cool for the Bald Eagle.


 

Now, for the true testament to the illegitimacy of the Bald Eagle and its unsavory behavior(s).



Bald Eagle Behavior

There are two behaviors the Bald Eagle exhibits that detract from its supposed prowess:

  1. Aggression - Bald Eagles rarely engage in aggressive physical contact. Most aggression is displayed through vocalizations and visual displays. Is that how you want to be represented? By a bird that is not willing to "throw down?" Not I, says this guy.

  2. Courtship: When Bald Eagles engage in courtship displays, they often lock their talons and cartwheel toward the earth from great altitudes. Seriously. They try to impress each other by "sky dancing." Why don't they flex their wing muscles, catcall, and swipe right? Ridiculous.

 
Own your own Bald Eagle. But why would you want to?
stuffed bald eagle toy
 

Bald Eagle Diet

This is where I know we can solidify this opinion. The Bald Eagle prefers fish in much of its range, but in the West, it is commonly found consuming carrion. Yeah, carrion!? Our beloved Bald Eagle is a scavenger! A glorified Turkey Vulture! A lazy, good-for-nothing... Whoa. I will slow down. Too many emotions here.


Okay, by this point in the post, many people are surely on my side. Great. However, we cannot be done until we offer a replacement for the national symbol of the United States of America. And I have the PERFECT replacement. Keep reading.


The New Symbol of Freedom

Wonderful people. You have stayed with me this far. Let me have your eyes for a bit longer. Below, I am going to make an argument for a species that is found in ALL 50 states and ranges across North America. A species known for its physical aggression, speed, voracious appetite, and its love for humans. This bird, we can all agree, is unmatched. I present to you the new symbol of the United States and a physical embodiment of freedom. And it can be spelled in a single word:


M - A - L - L - A - P - R - I - L - S - F - O - O - L - S


Yeah, that's right. This was originally posted as an April Fool's joke. So calm down and watch some Bald Eagles at the bottom of this post.

Mallard
Mallard

Mallard Range Map

Mallard Range Map
Mallard Range Map

Whew. Could you imagine if I actually recommended the Mallard over the Bald Eagle? I would have mobs with torches and pitchforks at my door. Seriously though, the Mallard can be found in all 50 states. That's no simple feat.

 

Help migratory birds by promoting healthy winter habitat!

 

There are three things I want you to take away from this post:

  1. The Bald Eagle is an amazing species. I have felt them crush my hand under the safety of a leather gauntlet. I have heard and felt their magnificent heartbeat while helping to rescue, transport, and examine them.

  2. Bald Eagles still face many perils. After bringing the species back from the brink of extinction during the days of DDT, the Bald Eagle faces dangers from lead poisoning, poaching, and windmill strikes.

  3. I fooled you in two ways. I taught you information about the Bald Eagle that was 100% true, and I led you to believe that I thought the Bald Eagle was a fraud. Double win for me.


I wonder how many unfollows we had after the first two paragraphs...


Bald Eagle Feeding a Chick


 

If you are interested in learning more about raptor identification, here are our favorite raptor ID guides:


Also, check out our blog post on Bald vs Golden Eagle Identification!


For waterfowl identification, our favorite waterfowl guides are:


 

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Credits/References

Bald Eagle: Photo by Doug Swinson on Unsplash
Buehler, D. A. (2020).Bald Eagle(Haliaeetus leucocephalus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.baleag.01
Mallard: Photo by Pete Nuij on Unsplash

1 Comment


Ellis Hein
Ellis Hein
Apr 04, 2020

I could think of some other birds that would represent us quite well. I will put in my bid for the House Wren. It widely distributed, it has its "fingers in pies" in many different countries, and it shares our propensity for getting ourselves really tangled. So, up with the House Wren!

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