Saturday, January 5, 2013

This One's For The #American #BaldEagle

One of two captive Bald Eagles at the Salato Wildlife Education Center in Frankfort, KY.
By: Pen Waggener

January 5

National Bird Day

The oldest of all national day observances, National Bird Day is an annual celebration celebrated by more than a half a million Americans. It was started in 1894 by the superintendent of schools in Oil City, Pennsylvania; Charles Almanzo Babcock. He launched the holiday as a way for bird to be celebrated in American schools. By 1901, the holiday was firmly established. National Bird Day is celebrated by bird enthusiasts through bird watching, studying birds, bird drinking games including 'bird date' and other bird-related activities. It is also the day with the most bird adoptions. Veteran bird owners often spend the day educating new bird owners how to care for their birds including constant cleanups, screaming, biting the need for daily interaction and a varied diet.

According to Born Free USA's National Bird Day website "nearly 12 percent of the world's 9,800 bird species may face extinction within the next century, including nearly one-third of the world's 330 parrot species." The National Bird Day website offers several suggestions on how anyone can participate in National Bird Day even if they cannot go birdwatching or interact with birds.

American Bald Eagle - An American Symbol 

Eagle Closeup by Pen Waggener
The Bald Eagle first made its appearance as an American symbol in 1776 when it appeared on a Massachusetts copper cent although It was not a national symbol at that time. On July 4, 1776, the same day we declared our independence from Great Britain, the Second Continental Congress named members of special committee to establish an emblem (great seal) for their new country. An official symbol of sovereignty was needed in order to formalize and seal international treaties and transactions. Members of the committee included Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The three men were charged with designing an emblem but had little experience in heraldry. They sought the help of the artist, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere (18 September 1737,[1] Geneva, Switzerland—October 1784, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). The three committee members then went to work on designing on what they believed the emblem should look like. They presented their design to congress on August 20, 1776. Congress did not approve the design and established a second committee to work on the project  consisted of James Lovell, John Morin Scott, and William Churchill Houston. 

The second committee presented a new design to Congress on May 10, 1780; six weeks after being formed. Once again Congress did not approve of the design. 

Third Committee Seal Idea
US Public Domain
A third committee was formed on May 4, 1782 consisting of John Rutledge, Arthur Middleton, and Elias Boudinot. It was during this committee that an eagle had first made its appearance as an American symbol. The eagle was not a Bald Eagle. See figure on left. Five days later the men reported back to Congress with their design and once again Congress was not happy. 

The final design was conceived by Secretary Charles Thomson. Thomson had been given all the previous committees designs. He decided to incorporate various ideas from all the three committees into one design. Four different types of birds had been suggested as American symbols. These were a two-headed eagle, a rooster, a dove, and a "phoenix in flames." According to American author, Maude M. Grant, "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."

Not all member of Continental Congress thought the American symbol should be a Bald Eagle. Benjamin Franklin had opposed the use of the bird as an American symbol. Everyone knew of his discontent. In January 1784, he stated "The bald 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." Artist John James Audubon agreed with Franklin. In 1782, there were  25,000 and 75,000 Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states. Farmers had considered the Bald Eagle as vermin and would shot them on sight. claims, "Because of their size, bald eagles are not concerned about threats from other birds. However, eagles are often chased by smaller birds, who are trying to protect their young. . . It was Benjamin Franklin's observations of a bald eagle either ignoring or retreating from such mobbing that probably led to his claim of the bald eagle's lack of courage." 

Despite the arguments against the use of the bird, Continental Congress adopted the Bald Eagle as an American symbol on June 20, 1782 when Congress approved Thomson's drawing. There were many states who were already using an eagle on their coinage while the great debate over the national symbol was occurring. Thomson wrote in his notes about the front of the seal. 

Franklin had expressed his displeasure with the selection of the Bald Eagle as a national symbol to his daughter, Sally, in a letter her wrote on January 26, 1784. Here is an excerpt of that letter from

Although the Bald Eagle became an American symbol their numbers have dropped significantly in that by the late 1800's they were becoming very scarce. This beautiful bird is only found in the United States. Over half of the world's 70,000 population live in Alaska. 

The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940, provided the Bald Eagle protection from taking, possessing and selling the Bald Eagle. Although eagle populations began to recover it did not stop the population from dwindling. Pesticides has been introduced to farming. The plants sprayed with DDT would be eaten by small animals. These small animals would be eaten the Bald Eagles. The poisonous DDT that had been ingested by their food would then spread to them.  Both adults and eggs were affected. The egg shells became to fragile. Eggs were often crushed or the baby eagle wouldn't hatch. By 1963, there were only 417 paired Bald Eagles left in the world. 

Two more acts were passed in 1966 and 1978 that to help with Bald Eagle population recovery. The act in 1978, was the most beneficial of the two in that it banned the use of DDT. 

In 2000, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the population numbers for the Bald Eagle had fully recovered. It was placed on an the threatened species list but no further action has been suggested to help the eagles maintain their numbers. 

You can learn more about the Bald Eagle at

 Song of the American Eagle
Author Unknown

I build my nest on the mountain's crest,
Where the wild winds rock my eaglets to rest,
Where the lightnings flash, and the thunders crash,
And the roaring torrents foam and dash;
For my spirit free henceforth shall be
A type of the sons of Liberty.

Aloft I fly from my aƫrie high,
Through the vaulted dome of the azure sky;
On a sunbeam bright take my airy flight,
And float in a flood of liquid light;
For I love to play in the noontide ray,
And bask in a blaze from the throne of day.

Away I spring with a tireless wing,
On a feathery cloud I poise and swing;
I dart down the steep where the lightnings leap,
And the clear blue canopy swiftly sweep;
For, dear to me is the revelry
Of a free and fearless Liberty.

I love the land where the mountains stand,
Like the watch-towers high of a Patriot band;
For I may not bide in my glory and pride,
Though the land be never so fair and wide,
Where Luxury reigns o'er voluptuous plains,
And fetters the free-born soul in chains.

Then give to me in my flights to see
The land of the pilgrims ever free!
And I never will rove from the haunts I love
But watch, from my sentinel-track above,
Your banner free, o'er land and sea,
And exult in your glorious Liberty.

O, guard ye well the land where I dwell,
Lest to future times the tale I tell,
When slow expires in smoldering fires
The goodly heritage of your sires,
How Freedom's light rose clear and bright
O'er fair Columbia's beacon-hight,
Till ye quenched the flame in a starless night.

Then will I tear from your pennon fair
The stars ye have set in triumph there;
My olive-branch on the blast I'll launch,
The fluttering stripes from the flagstaff wrench,
And away I'll flee; for I scorn to see
A craven race in the land of the free!

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