The bald eagleБs role as a national symbol is linked to its 1782 landing on the Great Seal of the United States. Shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress gave Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams the job of designing an official seal for the new nation. However, the three Founding Fathers failed to come up with a design that won CongressБ approval, as did two later committees that were given the task. In mid-June 1782, the work of all three committees was handed over to Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress. Thomson chose what he thought were the best elements of the various designs and made the eagleБwhich had been introduced by artistically inclined Pennsylvania lawyer William Barton in a design submitted by the third committeeБmore prominent. (Since ancient times, the eagle has been considered a sign of strength; Roman legions used the animal as their standard, or symbol. )
Thomson also recommended that the small, white eagle used in BartonБs design be replaced with an American bald eagle, and Congress adopted this design on June 20, 1782. (Contrary to legend, thereБs no evidence Ben Franklin protested to Congress about the choice of the bald eagle and lobbied for the turkey, although in a 1784 letter to his daughter he did label the bald eagle Бa bird of bad moral character.
Б) As the design went on to appear on official documents, currency, flags, public buildings and other government-related items, the bald eagle became an American icon. Despite its symbolic significance, AmericaБs majestic national bird has faced a real-life threat of extinction. In the late-1800s, the country was home to 100,000 nesting bald eagles, but the number of birds soon dwindled due to such factors as habitat destruction and hunting.
In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act, making it illegal to possess, kill or sell the birds. A new new threat arose when they began eating prey contaminated with DDT, a pesticide that came into wide use following World War II. In the 1960s, there were only around 400 breeding pairs left in the continental U. S. , and in 1978 the bald eagle was put on the endangered species list. Thanks to federal protections as well as regulations involving DDT, in 1995 the bald eagle population had recovered enough for the birdБs status to be changed from endangered to threatened, and in 2007 it was removed completely from the list. A bald eagle\’s white head may make it look bald. But actually the name comes from an old English word, \”balde,\” meaning white. These graceful birds have been the national symbol of the United States since 1782.
Bald eagles were on the brink of extinction because of hunting and pollution. But laws created almost 40 years ago have helped protect them, and they\’ve made a comeback. Female bald eagles are a bit bigger than males. Their bodies can be 3 feet (1 meter) long, and their wingspan can be 8 feet (2. 4 meters) across. That\’s about the distance from the floor to the ceiling! Babies, called eaglets, are born light gray then turn brown. When they are 4 to 5 years old, they develop their normal white heads and tails. In the wild, they can live to be 35 years old or more. One of the most awesome sights in nature is a bald eagle swooping down from the sky to grab a fish. They can soar over 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) high, and their great eyesight lets them see fish up to a mile (1. 6 kilometers) away. When they attack, they drop down at up to 100 miles (161 kilometers) an hour!
Then they glide just above the water, snag a fish with their feet, and fly off to eat it. Eagle nests are called aeries (AIR-ees). Bald eagles build their nests at the very top of tall trees so the eggs will be safe. Some parents come back year after year to the same nest, adding more sticks, twigs, and grass each time. One old nest in Florida grew to 9 feet (2. 7 meters) wide and 20 feet (6. 1 meters) tall and weighed more than 4,000 pounds (1,814 kilograms). Text by Scot Hoffman FAST FACTS These carnivorous birds can only lift about half their body weight. If they catch a fish that weighs more than that, they might hang onto it with their talons and \”swim\” to shore using their huge wings. The average female bald eagle has a wingspan of 6 to 8 feet (1. 8 to 2. 4 meters) and weighs 9 pounds (4 kilograms). Bald eagles live up to 35 years of age. National Geographic Society. All Rights Reserved.