The Bald Eagle (scientific classification: Haliaeetus leucocephalus; hali = sea, aeetus = eagle, leuco = white, cephalis = head) is the national bird and national animal of the United States. It is found in North America – most prevalently in Canada, Alaska, the United States and Northern Mexico. Bald eagles tend to settle near large bodies of open water with a copious food supply and older trees for nesting. They feed on fish and create the largest tree nests ever recorded for any animal species. They are not actually bald, as their name might suggest them to be. They are termed as "bald" because of their evenly dark brown color and white tail and head. In the late 1900s, bald eagles were considered an endangered species on the brink of extinction, and afterwards, a threatened species. Today they are not endangered nor threatened.
The Bald Eagle as an American Symbol
The Founding Fathers of the United States were inspired by the eagle's symbolism from the Roman Republic. In ancient Rome, eagles were carried by legions (eagle-bearers) that accompanied the emperor. The founders incorporated the symbol into federal agency logos. The bald eagle appears on the Presidential Seal of the United States, the Presidential Flag, and the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal gives authenticity to federal documents. Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress in the late 1700s, created the Seal's final design in 1782. Thomson was a Latin master at a school in Philadelphia, so the Great Seal has heavy Latin influences. The bald eagle holds an olive branch with one talon (signifying peace), and thirteen arrows in its other talon (signifying the 13 original colonies). A scroll hanging in its beak bears the motto, "E pluribus unum" (meaning "Out of Many, One").
The Bald Eagle in Native American Culture
To many Native American tribes, eagles are perceived as spiritual messengers between gods and humans. Parts of the eagle, such as the claws or feathers, are used in their fans, headdresses or whistles. Each tribe exemplifies the significance of eagles in different ways. For example, the Kwakwaka'wakw tribe scatters eagle feathers on the ground to welcome special guests. The National Eagle Repository, operated under the Office of Law Enforcement of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, receives and stores deceased eagles and distributes them to federally recognized Native American tribes for use during religious ceremonies. You can read more about Native Americans in our blogs: Native American Migration to Reservations, Northwest Native American History.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.