Benjamin Franklin wrote:
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.... Besides he is a rank coward; the little kingbird, not bigger than a sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest. . . of America.. . . For a truth, the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards, who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on.
Franklin was clearly against the eagle and let everyone know it. Likewise, the artist John James Audubon agreed with this opinion of the bald, or white-headed, eagle.
Nevertheless, selected as our national bird, the eagle has appeared on all official seals of the United States, as well as on most coinage, paper money, and on many U.S. stamps. It is curious to note the minted eagles have been issued in a great variety of shapes and positions. Also, there is great variation in the species depicted. Some of the famous images have species other than the bald eagle----for example the famous ten-dollar gold pieces exhibit the "double eagle" instead. Numerous people have complained because many, if not most, of these illustrations show the wide-ranging golden eagle rather than our own national bird, the bald eagle. They feel these representations mislead the general public into believing that they are looking at a bald eagle. The easiest way to distinguish between the golden and bald eagles is by the feathering on the legs. The golden is feathered down the entire leg, while the bald eagle has no feathers on lower part of the leg until at least two or three years of age, when bald eagles also start developing the white head and tail.
Because of their size, bald eagles are not concerned about threats from other birds. However, eagles are often chased by smaller birds, who are trying to protect their young. Bald eagles are unlikely to bother smaller birds or their young, which makes these efforts unnecessary. Eagles often ignore mobbing behavior by smaller birds. It was Benjamin Franklin's observations of a bald eagle either ignoring or retreating from such mobbing that probably led to his claim of the bald eagle's lack of courage.
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