I have watched the Norfolk eagle cam for over five years now but this year it is no more. Due to safety concerns of a neighboring airport, scientists were forced to remove the nest, where Dad eagle returned annually to give people around the world a glimpse into their mysterious world. Perhaps one day, another nest will be made somewhere nearby and another eagle father and patriarch will adorn us once more with the reality TV of a Bald eagle family.

The American Bald eagle is certainly a beautiful bird. It is a rarity to see one but those occurrences are ever improving due to various conservation programs committed to the safety and protection of them and their increasing numbers. Usually they are found near sources of water but sometimes they do travel inland whenever it suits them. The American Bald eagle, national symbol of the United States, was chosen by a congressional committee in 1782 as the representative national bird. It was created to represent the strength, power and resilience since at the time America was constantly under the threat of war on its borders.[1] Even thought majestic in its ability to mesmerize people who witness the bird in its habitat not everyone in history has had a favorable opinion of them.

Benjamin Franklin, early American inventor, originally proposed the idea of a Turkey to be the national bird of the United States, arguing that it the Bald eagle was, “a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly…” and John Audubon wrote of the Bald eagle, “ha[s] a ferocious, overbearing and tyrannical temper”.[2] But the keen eagle won out as the national symbol due to its own past of representing famous conquerors of the Greeks and Romans, both of whom were popularly studied by intellectualists at the time.[3]

In the twentieth century, author Neltje Blanchan wrote in Birds: That hunt and the Hunted, that even though the eagle represented American virtues of, “freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness…” was in fact also, “…a piratical parasite whenever it gets the chance”.[4]He pointed out the predatory way in which the Bald eagle hunted, killed and consumed its prey and that in actuality contradicted the American virtues.

In 1971, Bald eagles seen as a predatory nuisance of livestock were killed in Wyoming. This continued well into the decade of the 1970’s as ranchers took to vigilantism to take care of the nuisance problem.[5] It also gave way to myths about the Bald eagle preying upon medium sized domestic and wild animals. While it certainly has the power to do so it rarely does capture them since they do have ample supply of fish and small birds as a food source.

The American Bald eagle, the national symbol of the United States continues to have an effect on people who encounter them whether it is in truth or fiction. They are symbolized further by naming them after businesses, ideologies, morals, strength, power, etc,. They are researched by many as they continue to make their way from being considered an endangered species and provide a powerful knowledge base for environmental studies. They remain popular in online cams, conservation groups, avian rescues and the wild. They are indeed a fascinating bird to learn about and view in its habitat. Whether they actually do make the best representation of American virtues is subject to interpretation. Maybe that is the point or is it?

[1] Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence, “Symbol of a Nation: The Bald Eagle in American Culture”, in Journal of American Culture (1990), v13, n.1. 63.

[2] Lawrence, “The Bald Eagle in American Culture”, 64.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lawrence, “The Bald Eagle in American Culture”, 66.

[5] Ibid.