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The Eagle
---Alfred Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

The Bald Eagle - An American Emblem

The bald eagle was chosen June 20, 1782 as the emblem of the United States of American, because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks, and also because it was then believed to exist only on this continent.

On the backs of our gold coins, the silver dollar, the half dollar and the quarter, we see an eagle with outspread wings.

On the Great Seal of the United States and in many places which are exponents of our nation's authority we see the same emblem.

The eagle represents freedom. Living as he does on the tops of lofty mountains, amid the solitary grandeur of Nature, he has unlimited freedom, whether with strong pinions he sweeps into the valleys below, or upward into the boundless spaces beyond.

It is said the eagle was used as a national emblem because, at one of the first battles of the Revolution (which occurred early in the morning) the noise of the struggle awoke the sleeping eagles on the heights and they flew from their nests and circled about over the heads of the fighting men, all the while giving vent to their raucous cries. "They are shrieking for Freedom," said the patriots.

Thus the eagle, full of the boundless spirit of freedom, living above the valleys, strong and powerful in his might, has become the national emblem of a country that offers freedom in word and thought and an opportunity for a full and free expansion into the boundless space of the future.

The American Bald Eagle gained immediate, unofficial recognition as our National bird when the Great Seal of the United States was adopted on June 20, 1782.  Official designation of the massive bird that has a wingspan of from 6 to 8 feet did not come however, for six more years.  During that time it was the subject of fierce arguments by leading political leaders of the day. 


In January of 1784 elder statesman Benjamin Franklin registered his own disapproval of the eagle as our National bird when he stated:

"The bald eagle...is a bird of bad moral character; like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor, and often very lousy.

"The turkey is a much more respectable bird and withal a true original native of America."

eagle_turkeyseal.gif (14799 bytes)
The Presidential Seal
That Might Have Been

The bald eagle's friends prevailed in the end, however, and in 1789 George Washington became our Nation's first President and the American Bald Eagle became our Country's official bird.  Almost 150 years later the American Bald Eagle was protected under the National Emblem Act of 1940.   President John F. Kennedy later wrote:

"The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation.  The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America."

General Information

eagle.jpg (16384 bytes)The Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus Ieucocephalus) is found only on the North American continent. Adult eagles generally weigh between 9 and 12 pounds and have a wing span of 7 feet. Females are slightly larger than males. Immature eagles are mottled brown and white. The distinct white head and tail of the mature bird is developed between 4 and 6 years of age.
Eagles do not live in isolation! Because they are at the top of the food chain, they become an irreplaceable indicator for measuring the the health of our entire ecological system.
After being listed as an endangered species in 1978 following a dramatic drop in population that began at the turn of the century, the Bald Eagle's status was upgraded to Threatened August 11, 1995. Although efforts to replenish populations of the Bald Eagle have been successful, it continues to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Eating Habits

Eagles feed mainly on fish, but water fowl, small mammals and carrion supplement their diet, especially when fish are in short supply. Eagles can fly up to 30 m.p.h. and can dive at speeds up to 100 m.p.h.. Their keen eyesight allows them to spot fish at distances up to 1 mile. Eagles swoop down to seize fish in their talons and carry it off, but can only lift about half of their weight. Bald Eagles can even swim to shore with a heavy fish using their strong wings as paddles. However, it is also possible that they can drown if the fish weighs too much.


Mating Behaviors

Bald eagles mate for life and can reach the age of 40. Courting behavior begins in early April and often involves spectacular aerial displays of eagles diving and locking talons. Eagles lay from 1 to 3 eggs (commonly two) and the eggs usually hatch between late May and early June after a 34 or 35 day incubation period. By the end of the summer, the parent eagles begin to suffer from "empty nest syndrome" as their offspring can generally fly and take off to be on their own. Eagles migrate in winter and often roost and hunt in groups along waterways that don't freeze and have abundant food supplies.

Fast Facts
  • Common Name: bald eagle
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Accipitridae
  • Genus species: Haliaeetus (sea eagle) leucocephalus (white head)
  • Size: 1 m (3 ft.) in height; 2.3 m (7 ft.) wing span
  • Weight: males 3.5 to 4 kg (8-9 lb.), females 4.5 to 6 kg (10-14 lb.)
  • Description: Adults at 4 to 5 yrs. are identified by their white head and tail, solid brown body, and large, curved, yellow bill. Juveniles have blotchy patches of white on their underside and tail.
  • Life span: up to 30 years in the wild, longer in captivity
  • Sexual maturity: 4 to 5 years of age
  • Incubation: 31 to 45 days
  • Habitat: live and nest near coastlines, rivers, lakes, wet prairies, and coastal pine lands in North America from Alaska and Canada south into Florida and Baja, California.
  • Diet: prefer fish swimming close to the water's surface, small mammals, waterfowl, wading birds, dead animal matter (carrion).
  • Status: listed by USFWS as threatened in all but three of the lower 48 states and protected by CITES; populations are healthy in Alaska


Fun Facts

  • 1. The bald eagle is not really bald; it actually has white feathers on its head, neck, and tail. Bald is a derivation of balde, an Old English word meaning white. The eagle was named for its white feathers instead for a lack of feathers.
  • 2. Bald eagles may use the same nest year after year, adding more twigs and branches each time. One nest was found that had been used for 34 years and weighed over two tons!
  • 3. The bald eagle can fly 20 to 40 mph in normal flight and can dive at speeds over 100 mph.
  • 4. Bald eagles can actually swim! They use an overhand movement of the wings that is very much like the butterfly stroke.
  • 5. More than 80% of the bald eagle population in the southeastern United States is concentrated within the state of Florida.



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