What Is The Bald Eagle?
The bald eagle is a large bird of prey that can be found throughout North America. This species is known for its unique appearance that features a wingspan that ranges between 5.9 and 7.5 feet. The bald eagle is dark brown with white head plumage, which is responsible for the descriptor “bald”. In addition to its striking appearance, the bald eagle is also an important bird to several Native American cultures as well as the national bird of the United States.
When Did the Bald Eagle Become the National Bird of the US?
At the second meeting of the newly formed Continental Congress, representatives from the original 13 colonies decided to seek independence from Great Britain. They also decided that the newly forming country needed an official seal. In response, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams presented a design idea. Congress turned down the idea, but kept the slogan, “E Pluribus Unum.”
Six years later, in May of 1782, Congress was presented with a drawing of the bald eagle as a potential symbol for the country because it represents authority and nationhood. In fact, eagles in general have been used to represent governments since as far back as the Roman Empire. The Congress members accepted the proposal on June 20, 1782 and went about creating the perfect image. Soon after, olive branches (to represent peace) and arrows (to represent war) were added to the bald eagle’s talons. The US national symbol was born and officially adopted in 1787, although the bald eagle was already being used on several coats of arms across the country by then.
The Symbol Of The Bald Eagle
Today, the bald eagle is used on quarters, gold coins, silver coins, paper money, postage stamps, and the half-dollar coin. Additionally, it is the primary image of the country’s Great Seal. The Great Seal shows a bald eagle with wings spread, holding a shield. The shield has 13 red and white stripes and a blue field of 13 white stars to symbolize the first 13 colonies. As previously mentioned, the eagle is carrying arrows and olive branches. In its beak, is a scroll that reads, “E Pluribus Unum.” Several of the states have also adapted a bald eagle image on their official seals. Throughout the country, the bald eagle is used as a patriotic symbol on clothes, flagstaffs, and other decorations.
Disagreement Over The Bald Eagle
Despite its quick popularity, several people were against the use of the bald eagle as national symbol. One of the most well-known critics was Benjamin Franklin, who believed the bird to be a “symbol of bad moral character.” In his dissent, he cited the propensity of the bald eagle to steal fish caught by other birds without doing the work itself. Which bird would Franklin have preferred? He claimed that the wild turkey was a much better candidate as a national symbol, being both native to the US and braver than the bald eagle. His belief about the birds’ differing levels of bravery came from the fact that bald eagles will often run away from attacks made by smaller birds. John James Audubon, ornithologist and naturalist painter, agreed with Franklin on his observations.