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Eagle Symbol Meaning - United States National Bird and Emblem

Updated on February 13, 2011
USA National Bird
USA National Bird

Bald Eagle Head

Bald Eagle Head
Bald Eagle Head

Eagle Symbolism

Living on the tops of lofty mountains and amid the solitary grandeur of nature, the eagle is a symbol of freedom, whether with strong pinions eagle sweeps into the valleys below, and upward into the boundless spaces beyond.

The bald eagle was chosen as the emblem of the United States of America on June 20, 1782 because of its great strength, courage, long life and majestic look. This beautiful bird was chosen also because it was believed that this eagle can be found only on the North American continent, therefore it was considered a true “native American”. The bald eagle was first suggested by a Philadelphia lawyer, William Barton as part of the seal. Barton explained that the eagle symbolizes the supreme power and authority.

United States National Emblem

The Great Seal shows a wide-spread American bald eagle, faced front, in his beak he holds a ribbon; the ribbon has the motto, “E PLURIBUS UNUM”, meaning “Out of many, one”. In his right talon, the bird holds an olive branch with 13 olives and 13 leaves (symbolizing peace), in his left a bundle of 13 arrows (the arrows symbolizing the acceptance of the need to go to war in order to protect the country and the number 13 stands for the original 13 colonies). The eagle also has a shield on its breast with 13 perpendicular red and white stripes. The eagle’s head has always faced to the right (towards the olive branches of peace).

At times, the eagle on the presidential seal, flag and badge faced the left talon and the arrows, symbolic of war. With executive order 9646, President Harry Truman changed the head direction to the eagle’s right (to the olive branches of peace) in 1945.

Eagle Flying in the Sky

Eagle Flying in the Sky
Eagle Flying in the Sky

Turkey Birds

Turkey Birds
Turkey Birds

Interesting Facts

One American legend provides another story about the reason why the eagle was chosen. It states that in the beginning stages of the Revolutionary War (early in the morning), the loud fighting awoke sleeping eagles from their nests nearby. These eagles flew to the battlefieId and circled it, screeching all the while. Then it was believed by the fighting men that the shrieks of the eagles sounded as if they were also yelling for freedom from the British.

The elder statesman Benjamin Franklin registered his own disapproval of the bald eagle as United States National bird in January 1784. He said the bald eagle is a bird of bad moral character, he described the bird as lazy and does not get his living honestly. Benjamin Franklin preferred the turkey as the national bird because he said turkey is a much more respectable bird.

Bald Eagle Endangered Species

However, president John F. Kennedy liked the bird so much and wrote that the Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when the bald eagle was selected as the emblem of the nation. He also wrote that the fierce beauty and proud independence of the bald eagle symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.

You can see the eagle with outspread wings on the backs of the gold coins, the silver dollar, the half dollar as well as the quarter. Now the eagle is not only used as the America’s national emblem but it is also used as the symbol of American Airlines, National Wildlife Federation, Goodyear tires, Harley Davidson Motorcycles etc.

Because of the bird’s status as a national symbol, these birds are protected under the Bald Eagle Protection Act. And under this law, any collection of the bird, or its eggs, feathers and nests is illegal. Up until its removal in 2007 by the Department of the Interior, these eagles were also protected under the Endangered Species Act. Today, half of the bald eagles in the world (about 70,000) live in Alaska.

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