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The Bald Eagle
Symbol of the United States

 

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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."

The Presidential Seal
That Might Have Been

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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."



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American Bald Eagle
(Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

The Bald Eagle can be found from Alaska to the northern border of Mexico and from Pacific to Atlantic coast.  It is the ONLY eagle that is found   exclusively on the North American continent.  It is a true "native American".  It is a very large and powerful bird, males weighing from 7 - 10 pounds with wingspans of more than 6 feet, and females weighing up to 14 pounds with wingspans up to 8 feet.

Bald eagles mate for life and build large nests that are used year after year.  Often the annual nest-preparation includes additional construction increasing the size of an already large nest.  In time some nests have been known to reach 10 feet in diameter. 

Female eagles lay two or three eggs each year which hatch after an incubation period of about 35 days.  Within about three months the young eaglets are capable of flight and quickly learn to hunt and fend for themselves.   The white crown that makes the bald eagle so quickly recognizable, along with its white tail feathers, do not appear until the eagles reach 4 or 5 years of age.  Bald eagles normally live up to a thirty year time span.

Bald eagles are protected under the National Emblem Act of 1940, also known as the Bald Eagle Protection Act.  They were further protected under the Endangered Species Act, and stiff penalties are imposed for killing, harassing, possessing or selling bald eagles.  Special permits are issued to zoos and other institutions that protect and breed the magnificent birds in captivity.

 

 

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