The Bald Eagle is Overrated

Updated: Apr 26

I know what you're thinking. Are these people flocking around? Read on to find out...

Bald Eagle aka Glorified Vulture

The Bald Eagle was selected as the national emblem of the United States in 1782. Benjamin Franklin argued against Congress selecting this bird by offering the Wild Turkey as an alternative. 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 Eagles and its indecorums.


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Bald Eagle Range

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.



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, I'm going to play devil's advocate and say it is NOT. When you're choosing a car, do you want an old, rusty automotive? 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 and whistles.



Bald Eagle Habitat


Bald Eagles typically nest in mature forest with some habitat edge. Okay, that's a positive. Who doesn't 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. It's unsavory behaviors.



Bald Eagle Behavior


There are two behaviors the Bald Eagle displays, 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 talons and cartwheel towards 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.



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

Mallard


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.




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 from Amazon:


  1. The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

  2. Hawks at a Distance

  3. Hawks from Every Angle

  4. Hawks in Flight


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


For waterfowl identification, our favorite waterfowl guides from Amazon are:


  1. The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl

  2. Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia

  3. North American Ducks, Geese, and Swans: Identification Guide

  4. Waterfowl of North America

  5. Waterfowl ID Series: 1, Waterfowl ID Series: 2, AND Waterfowl ID Series 3



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Credits/References

Bald Eagle: Photo by Doug Swinson on Unsplash
Bald Eagle Range Map: Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
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
Mallard Range Map: Fink, D., T. Auer, A. Johnston, M. Strimas-Mackey, O. Robinson, S. Ligocki, B. Petersen, C. Wood, I. Davies, B. Sullivan, M. Iliff, S. Kelling. 2020. eBird Status and Trends, Data Version: 2018; Released: 2020. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.https://doi.org/10.2173/ebirdst.2018
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