The bald eagle's head is actually not bald! The name comes from an old English word, ‘balde’ meaning white. It can soar over 10,000 feet and because of its phenomenal eyesight it can see fish up to a mile away. When it spots one, it swoops down at 100 miles an hour, glides just above the water and snags the fish with its feet. Bald eagles are unusually devoted spouses and parents. They mate for life and tend not to move homes unless forced to.
Descendants of kites, eagles have been around for more than thirty million years. While no one knows precisely when the bald eagle appeared on the scene, the earliest known fossil remains that closely resemble the bald eagle date back to about a million years ago.
The bald eagle first appeared as an American symbol on a Massachusetts copper cent coined in 1776. Since then it has appeared on the reverse side of many U.S. coins. For six years, the members of Congress had a bitter dispute over what the national emblem should be. One of the most prominent opponents to the bald eagle’s status was Benjamin Franklin. He wrote: “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country; he 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 a true, original native of America''. Other members in the Congress did not share Franklin’s sentiments. The Congress ultimately made it the central figure on the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. It displayed the bald eagle at its centre, wings outstretched, clutching an olive branch and a bundle of arrows. Representing fidelity, self-reliance, strength, and courage, the charismatic bird became more than a patriotic totem and quickly attained a venerable perch in America’s iconography. Its visage appeared on the US capitol dome and pediments, hard and paper currency, business and sports-team logos, coat buttons and cufflinks,
Yet as the American public revered the symbol, the bird itself was seen as a villain. Farmers in the 19th century loathed the birds, believing that they killed livestock, and a strange but popular myth claimed that the raptor could even snatch up helpless human babies. With the advent of DDT, its numbers plummeted. It is unthinkable that such a lofty bird could ever face extinction, let alone stare down that possibility twice, both times at the hands of humans. Rachel Carson's seminal book in 1962, Silent Spring helped to spark the environmental movement and exposed the hazards of rampant pesticide use on birds and other wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency eventually banned DDT a decade later, just two years after the agency was established and their numbers soared. Without these actions the bald eagle could have gone the way of the dodo
The bald eagle has the power to mesmerise and inspire.
We all know Herman Melville for Moby Dick, but he also wrote poetry. In 1866, he published a book of poems about the Civil War called “Battle Pieces and Aspects of the Civil War”. One of the poems in the collection is “The Eagle of the Blue”, written about Ole Abe the War Eagle, the famous live bald eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry. Named after Abraham Lincoln, it saw a lot of action during the war. The Old Abe came out of every fight relatively unscathed, in spite of being shot at by Confederate soldiers eager to kill it.
I particularly like these lines in the poem which captures the essence of bald eagle:
No painted plume—a sober hue,
His beauty is his power;
That eager calm of gaze intent
Foresees the Sibyl’s hour.
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