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Our national symbol

The founders of the United States wanted a bird to symbolize a nation they hoped would be strong and powerful, a bird that could soar high in the sky to represent freedom. They chose the bald eagle, a bird of prey found only in North America. You can see images of bald eagles on coins, stamps, and much more.

Are bald eagles really bald?

No! Their heads are covered with short white feathers. The term bald may be from the Old English word balde that meant white. Bald eagles are sometimes called American eagles, fishing eagles, Washington eagles, and white-headed eagles. They belong to a scientific grouping of eagles known as sea eagles or fish eagles that includes the Stellar’s sea eagle.

A bald eagle can reach a speed of up to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) when diving through the air to grab a meal.
Benjamin Franklin thought the bald eagle was a poor choice for a national symbol because it sometimes steals food from other birds. He recommended the wild turkey.
When a bald eagle loses a feather on one wing, it will lose a matching one on the other. This way it doesn’t lose its balance.
The largest known eagle nest was found in Florida. It was 9 feet (2.7 meters) across, 20 feet (6 meters) deep, and weighed over two tons (2 tonnes).
The bald eagle deserves a “hand” for one of its characteristics: Its grip. These eagles have a grip strength that is 10 times that of the average human.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has two bald eagles.

Bald eagles are at the top of the food chain, so they have no natural enemies. When their population drops, that means humans have done something to harm the eagles’ wild habitat. In the mid 1900s, farmers began using pesticides to protect their crops from insects. They didn’t realize that eagles would eat fish from bodies of water that had been contaminated by overuse of the poison. Eagles became endangered. Fortunately, the use of pesticides is better regulated now, and bald eagles have made a dramatic comeback in some states. However, what happened to them shows how all wildlife is linked together.

Bald eagles are currently classified as threatened in southern Canada and most of the United States by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. They are still abundant in their northern range, especially in Alaska.

One way to help eagles and other birds is to recycle paper so that there will be more trees left for them to nest in.