Who Knew? The Bald Eagle, Symbol Of Freedom, Isn’t The Official National Bird

You may not know that while the bald eagle has been adopted as America’s symbol of liberty and freedom since the 1780s, it’s not the official national bird. Cynthia Lummis introduced a bill Thursday to finally make it official.

Leo Wolfson

June 20, 20243 min read

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, introduced a bill June 20, 2024, to make the bald eagle America's official state bird.
U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, introduced a bill June 20, 2024, to make the bald eagle America's official state bird. (Eagle via Getty Images; Cynthia Lummis by Matt Idler for Cowboy State Daily)

For many, the majestic sight of a bald eagle soaring overhead evokes a sense of patriotism and freedom that’s at the heart of being an American.

What most of those people probably don’t know is that while the bald eagle has widely been adopted as the symbol of America going back to the 1780s, it’s not the official national bird.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis wants to change that with new legislation she introduced Thursday designating the bald eagle as the official bird of the United States. There now is no national bird — officially.

“There is nothing more American than a bald eagle soaring across the Wyoming sky,” Lummis said in a Thursday press release. “These majestic creatures have long been viewed as the official bird of this country and it is past time we made it official without costing taxpayers a single cent.”

Lummis is co-sponsoring the bill with one Republican and two Democrats.

Taking Flight

Although there is a national mammal, flower and tree, there is no national bird for the United States.

In 1782, the Continental Congress installed the bald eagle on the front of the Great Seal of the United States. Since then, it has been the second most used representation of the United States behind the American flag.

According to the History Channel, since ancient times the eagle has been considered a sign of strength, and Roman legions used the animal as a standard or symbol.

A bald eagle soars over the Wyoming landscape.
A bald eagle soars over the Wyoming landscape. (Getty Images)

Could’ve Been A Turkey

Although the story that Benjamin Franklin wanted America’s symbol to be the turkey is a myth, he did write a letter to his daughter criticizing the original eagle design for the Great Seal, saying the eagle on it looked more like a turkey. He also described the bald eagle as “a Bird of bad moral Character.”

“He does not get his Living honestly …[he] is too lazy to fish for himself,” Franklin wrote.

In comparison, Franklin wrote that the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.”

“He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage,” Franklin added.

The Comeback Bird

Bald eagles are often seen flying majestically over Wyoming’s scenic backdrop, most commonly in the northwest and east central regions of the state, according to Wyoming Game and Fish.

The most significant concentrations of bald eagles can be found in Teton, Sublette and Carbon counties, including a substantial number of nesting pairs in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

Bird Conservancy of the Rockies estimates that 0.5% of the world’s population of bald eagles breed in Wyoming, which is about 1,250 birds.

The population of the species has completely recovered since the 1960s, when there were only around 400 breeding pairs left in the continental U.S. In 1978, the bald eagle was put on the Endangered Species List.

Thanks to federal protections as well as regulations involving the use of the pesticide DDT, by 1995, the bald eagle population had recovered enough for the bird’s status to be changed from endangered to threatened, and in 2007 it was removed completely from the list.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter