National Geographic : 1929 May
THE EAGLE IN ACTION An Intimate Study of the Eyrie Life of America's National Bird BY FRANCIS H. HERRICK, Sc. D. Professor Emeritus of Biology in Adelbert College, Western Reserve University T HE choice of a national emblem could hardly have been more de liberate than in the case of the American eagle, for from the day the Declaration of Independence was signed six committees had wrestled with the question for as many years, until a device satisfactory to the Congress was finally adopted on June 20, 1782. As it happened, the choice had fallen to a true native of America, the white-headed or "bald eagle,"* which ranges over nearly the whole of the North American Conti nent. From that day the effigy of the American eagle, "displayed," or with wings and feet extended, became the official badge of sovereignty of the United States, and it was immediately cut in brass,tobeusedasasealandforana tional coat of arms. The golden eagle, the only other mem ber of the family known to enter our borders, is a more cosmopolitan species, reaching in its wanderings nearly every part of the Northern Hemisphere. THE EMBODIMENT OF FREEDOM AND POWER It is in action that the eagle appears at his best, for he is then a true "king of birds"; and, whether we have seen him soaring and circling far above the confines of the earth or plunging like a meteor from the sky; whether screaming defiance at the storm or fiercely striking his prey, we know why to men of every age he has seemed the very embodiment of freedom and power; why his effigy 'has been em blazoned on the chariots of warriors and on the shields of knights, or, raised aloft on poles and banners, has followed the * The term "bald," as a correspondent has re cently suggested, is probably a corruption of "piebald," as in the phrase "a bald horse," and refers to the bird's sharp-cut pattern of white head and neck, brown body, and white tail. legions into battle from the days of Marius to those of Napoleon and the leaders of the latest war. The history of the eagle in mythology and religious symbolism, in the decorative arts, and in heraldry of both the middle and modern age, as emblem of victory and also of double empire when it acquires a double head, is extraordinary testimony to this well-nigh universal appeal. THE EAGLE IS AKIN TO THE FALCON But if we glance at the other side of the shield we shall find another story. In its structure and habits, the eagle is a large hawk, of close kin to the falcons, buzzards, and harriers of every clime, but the big gest, boldest, and most powerful raptor of them all. The female, which in the American eagle is the larger sex, may at tain a length of 43 inches, may spread 8 feet, and, according to Audubon, may weigh from 8 to 12 pounds, though these last figures may be greatly exceeded in captive birds. It is a stranger to fatigue, can probably lift its own weight, and has been known to carry a lamb over a dis tance of five miles. Our eagle is content to subsist upon fish whenever there is an ample supply, but is too partial to waterfowl to become a favor ite with sportsmen, though it never kills for sport, and is too fond of chicken din ners, mutton chops, and suckling pig ever to become popular in rural communities. Now it has been accused, though with scant show of justice, of destroying salmon and young reindeer in Alaska, where the territorial legislature has set a price upon its hoary head. For ten years or more a ruthless war has been waged against our national bird in that territory, until more eagles have been destroyed-some esti mates running as high as forty or fifty thousand-than were thought to exist on the whole continent.