13 Things Every American Should Know About Bald Eagles

Most people already know that the Bald Eagle is the national animal of the U.S.A., but there's much more to them than that alone. Here are 13 things that every American should know about these marvelous birds of prey.

1. The word "Bald" in their name comes from the adjective "piebald", meaning "composed of two different colors".

Sure, it wouldn't be such a stretch to assume that these birds were named by some nearsighted person who thought their pale-colored heads were actually devoid of feathers, but that's not the case.

2. Their shrieking call isn't quite as majestic as you've been led to believe.

While Bald Eagles are certainly one of the most effective aerial predators in the world, their calls really aren't that impressive. The iconic shreek that's become so recognizable in TV and film as belonging to Bald Eagles is actually the call of a red-tail hawk that's been dubbed over. This is what they actually sound like:

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3. Ol' Benjamin Franklin didn't want Bald Eagles as the National Symbol because he thought they were mean.

There's a lot to like about America's portliest Founding Father, the ever-affable, beer-loving, bi-focal inventing Benjamin Franklin. But if there's one thing to disagree with him about, it's his unfavorable opinion of Bald Eagles. After the birds were selected as the new nation's official emblem in 1787, Franklin was less than thrilled:

I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country, he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly, you may have seen him perched on some dead tree, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing-hawk, and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to its nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes it from him....

4. They're surprisingly good swimmers.

I mean just look at that breaststroke.

click to play video

5. They live in every state in the Union, except for Hawaii.

Of all 59 species of eagle in the world, two of which are native to U.S., Bald Eagles are the only ones that live exclusively in North America -- which was one of the very good reasons they were selected as our national symbol.

(Yes, Bald Eagles can be found north of the border, too.)

6. Their mating ritual seems ripped straight out of an action movie.

When it comes to making babies, Bald Eagles don't fool around. The birds' mating ritual begins high in the air as a male and female dart and dive towards one another. After a few of those daring maneuvers, the mating pair then lock talons, forming a sort of "cartwheel" as they plummet towards the earth in free-fall, waiting until they're just moments from hitting the ground before separating.

Seriously.

click to play video

7. They stick with the same partner for life.

I guess when you find that special someone willing to join you in that crazy mating ritual, you hang on to them.

8. Their nests are really, really big. I'm talking HUGE.

For Bald Eagles, no puny home will do. Instead, they construct sprawling, mansion-esque nests that make more run-of-the-mill bird abodes look like unlivable little shanties.

In fact, Bald Eagles hold the record for the largest bird nest ever built. One construction in St. Petersburg, Florida measured 9.6 feet wide, 20 feet deep, and weighed an estimated 4,400 pounds.

9. Bald Eagle chicks are adorable, and slightly intimidating.

Aww. Just look 'em. (Okay, that's enough. Move along now.)

10. They work together when hunting.

Bald Eagles are often thought of as embodying the American tradition of self-reliance, but they actually work quite well with others too. The birds have been observed engaging in cooperative hunts, wherein one or more eagle will distract prey while another swoops in from behind, catching a meal that's then shared among the group.

11. There are probably more images of them out there than of any other animal, ever.

Not only are Bald Eagles a staple on patriotic T-shirts, trucker hats and tattoos, they're also depicted on nearly all official U.S. forms and documents -- making them easily one of, if not the most widely-depicted animal on the planet.

As the centerpiece to the Seal of the Federal Reserve, Bald Eagles appear on every denomination of paper currency printed today, as well as on the reverse of every quarter. That means, on money alone, there are more than 28 billion pictures of Bald Eagles in existence today.

12. Possessing Bald Eagle feathers is against the law.

As tempting as it may be to own a token of our beloved national bird, doing so is actually a federal crime, punishable by a year in jail and fines up to $200,000.

There are exception to this, however. Native Americans who use feathers in religious ceremonies are exempt from the law, but must attain Bald Eagle feathers from a government repository in Denver where the bodies of dead birds are kept in storage.

13. They were once nearly extinct, but conservation brought them back from the brink.

During the 18th century, there were an estimated 500,000 Bald Eagles soaring in the skies of North America, living symbols of a proud new nation. In the decades that followed, they began to diminish due to habitat loss and because they'd become a frequent target among hunters and trappers.

By 1940, killing the birds became illegal, but their decline continued from another threat -- the widely-used pesticide DDT, the runoff from which poisoned huge portions of their food supply. In the 1950s, only 412 breeding eagle pairs were counted in the whole of the contiguous 48 states.

Faced with the very real possibility that the national bird could be wiped out entirely, in 1967 they were added to the Endangered Species list. Not long after, DDT was banned and the birds began a remarkable recovery. In 1992, Bald Eagle numbers reached over 100,000 and rising.

In 2007, after sufficiently recovering thanks to concerted conservation efforts, Bald Eagles were delisted, though stringent protections still exist to this day.