The powerful and majestic bald eagle — our country’s national bird since 1782 — was not admired by Ben Franklin, who spoke disparagingly of the creature in a 1784 letter to his daughter. He deemed the bald eagle a “bird of bad moral character [who] does not get his living honestly.” Bald eagles sometimes cop a free meal by stealing fish from other birds. Evidently this rankled Franklin, who believed the “respectable” turkey to be a superior national symbol. Had a bald eagle once stolen Franklin’s lunch?
When Did the Bald Eagle Become Our National Symbol?
Bald eagles flourished on this continent prior to European settlement, but settlement gradually brought about habitat destruction. Bald eagles, also viewed as competition for game and a threat to livestock, were killed. By 1940, protected status was required.
Shortly after World War II, the pesticide DDT further reduced their numbers, thinning their eggshells, many of which would break. But with the banning of DDT in 1972 and the rise of conservationist breeding programs, they have mounted a spectacular comeback.
Bald eagles typically mate for life, share in parenting duties, and return to the same nest each year, after a little touch-up work. Their nests are enormous — on average, four to five feet wide and two to four feet deep. They are composed of interwoven sticks and lined with grass, cornstalks, moss, and feathers.
One bald eagle downer is its “voice,” which is comparable to a cackling laugh ill-suited to its image. When movie/television directors film a nature scene involving a bald eagle, they frequently dub in the more impressive scream of a red-tailed hawk. However, it is believed bald eagles do all their own stunts.