June 20 is National American Eagle Day in the United States of America.
American Eagle Day is a special day to commemorate the anniversary of the Bald Eagle’s selection as our National Symbol by the Second Continental Congress on June 20, 1782.
It is also a day to celebrate its return to America’s skies after near extinction due to the use of DDT and other pesticides.
The Bald Eagle is endemic (occurs only) to North America. It is a sea eagle, a small group of eagle species that live primarily near water and are adapted to hunt fish.
All sea eagles have relatively longer beaks, without feathers covering much of it. This helps keep the bill area free of fish waste and oils that could stick and attract pests or allow the growth of bacteria.
They also have roughly scaled feet, and strongly hooked claws that help hold fish.
The distinctive white feathers of the adult Bald Eagle are actually camouflage. Seen from below, the lighter parts may confuse fish or other prey as to the shape of the “thing in the sky,” delaying the response to a predator.
All adult sea eagles have white tails, but the Bald Eagle is the only one with a fully white head.
The name Bald Eagle, of course, is a misnomer. They do have fully feathered beds. “Balde” is an Old English word meaning white, and was used by the first English explorers to see the bird.
The earliest use of the Bald Eagle as an American symbol was apparently in 1776 in Massachusetts.
It was adopted because of the supposed characteristics of the bird, being brave, noble, and fierce. And in sympathy with the Eagle symbols of most European powers.
In reality, eagles are predators and carrion eaters, who have no qualms about getting a meal the easiest way possible.
Bald Eagles regularly steal food from each other, and from the smaller Osprey which also hunts fish. They also have no problems eating leftovers from bears, wolves, or other predators. And one of the best places to see a group of Bald Eagles is at garbage dumps outside some west coast cities.
But as can be seen in the stamps shown here, they’re still a magnificent predator, and can really look the part of majestic.
And Benjamin Franklin did Not, by the way, oppose the choice. His essay in favor of the Turkey was partly, at least, tongue-in-cheek. He didn’t like the design of the original Eagle symbol, and wrote to his daughter that the “eagle” looked more like a Turkey.