Let freedom squawk
When it comes to American symbols, eagles the right birds for the job

Let freedom squawk
Addyson Santese - 07/06/2023

Like many Americans, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to feel proud of this country in recent years – what with all the mass shootings and the loss of our basic human rights and the general disintegration of our entire democracy – but there are still a few things that fill me with patriotic reverence. The Olympics, obviously. Levi’s jeans are another biggie. And then there are bald eagles. Damn, do I get a glisten in my eye and a pang of nationalism in my heart when I see a bald eagle. But do these birds really deserve to be America’s icon? Let’s examine the facts.

Bald eagles and America go way back. Just six years after this country declared its independence, Congress decided we needed an official seal and gave the job to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Like many great men, they kicked that can down the road, and someone else ended up doing the job. There’s no real record of how or why the bald eagle was selected for the seal, but I have a few guesses.

First of all, just look at them. Giant raptor talons, 7-foot wingspan and that strong brow and stony glare that only Clint Eastwood could rival. That’s a bird that could mess you up. In fact, up until the 1930s, ornithologists believed that bald eagles had a taste for infant blood. Supposedly, there had been reports of eagles scooping up babies from carriages and flying them back to their aeries to feast on, but that myth was debunked when science confirmed the bird’s maximum carrying capacity was 5 pounds and the average infant weighed 6. Either way, grossly exaggerating your abilities to gain a fearsome reputation? That sounds awfully American to me.

Another thing that distinguishes the bald eagle from other national symbol contenders is the fact that they always seem to be alone. They’re the solo soldiers of the sky. The lone rookie who doesn’t do things by the book. Bald eagles are basically the bird-of-prey equivalent of Maverick in “Top Gun,” which seems pretty kickass until you rewatch the movie as an adult and realize that Iceman wasn’t really a villain but the voice of reason, and Kelly McGillis’ character ended up being gaslit by a total man-baby. Oh, and bald eagles actually spend a lot of time hanging out together. It’s called communal roosting. Have you ever seen a photo of 55 bald eagles in one tree? Yeah, feels very un-American, doesn’t it? Like putting a hot dog on a hamburger bun.

But wait, you say! It’s not all made up! What about that commanding screech that’s practically synonymous with freedom? I hate to burst your bubble, but that’s fake too. The powerful call you hear in TV and movies as an eagle soars majestically through the sky is actually the sound of a red-tailed hawk, which, by the way, is about 3.5 times smaller than a bald eagle. Bald eagle vocalizations sound more like the squeak of your sneakers skidding out on a basketball court than the wrath and fury of the greatest nation on Earth. The eagle’s call and the fact that you got wrecked by some teens at the Rec Center’s weekday pick-up game are equally embarrassing.

Really, I hate to keep dogging on an American icon, but these birds don’t even hunt for their own food most of the time. They’re what ornithologists call “kleptoparasitic.” They’re known for swooping in at the last minute, mugging ospreys by ripping fish straight from the other bird’s talons midair, and then claiming the victory as their own. Seem familiar? Whatever historical American parallel you’re thinking of, you’re right.

Even Ben Franklin thought that bald eagles were a bad pick, stating, “he is a bird of bad moral character,” which is rich coming from the man who had countless mistresses. I know this because my mother-in-law once asked if we wanted to watch the “new Benjamin Franklin documentary,” a joke I found to be laugh-out-loud funny until I realized it wasn’t a joke at all, and we subsequently spent an awkward two hours watching historians attempt to excuse our founding father’s infidelity because yay, electricity. At least bald eagles have the decency to mate for life. 

Honestly, of all the animals that could represent the United States, I think the congressman who suggested the bald eagle kind of nailed it. Turkeys were on the table for a hot minute, but do we really want a bird with parts like wattles and snoods to be pictured on coins and flags and t-shirts with the sleeves ripped off? I don’t think so. 

The simple truth is that bald eagles are the best bird for the job. Few other creatures possess the same kind of regal power mixed with an undeserved sense of authority, and none look as good with a red, white and blue flag billowing softly behind them. I say let freedom squawk. 

– Addyson Santese

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