The American Bald Eagle is alive and well at our pond. Word has it that there are two adults and four juveniles hunting along the shore. Having lived during the time that these wonderful birds were on the brink of extinction, this sight makes me happier than you can imagine. The inimitable Debb Heald has captured this bird superbly, and I must thank her again for sharing her photos here.
Disclaimer: I must warn you that immediately after the wonderful pictures, there will be a commentary of a historical nature that, though intermittently funny, may be dry to some. However, I promise it will include Ben Franklin, scandalous ornithological revelations, and Cincinnati. Yes, I said Cincinnati.
These photos spurred me on to do a little research about how the American Bald Eagle was chosen to be on the official seal of the United States. Spoiler alert! It was done by committee! Three of them, to be exact! But let’s get on with the popular myth.
I had always been told that when the Founding Fathers were trying to choose a symbol for our fledgling (sorry, couldn’t resist) country, Ben Franklin urged everyone to use a Wild Turkey on the seal, but he was outvoted and the Bald Eagle was chosen instead. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this was untrue…mostly. He, along with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, failed to come up with an appropriate seal. Two more committees failed as well. The secretary of Congress, a guy named Charles Thomson, took the work from the three committees and cobbled together the best parts of each. You know, if the Founding Mothers were in charge of this whole seal thing, it would have been done in an afternoon with a bit of embroidery while having a cup of tea.
Yeah, I know…boring history. I promise it will get better. You just wait. We haven’t even gotten to the scandalous ornithological revelations, yet. Or Cincinnati! Let’s carry on, and just to give you a little motivation, there will be a quiz.
There isn’t any proof that Franklin lobbied for the Turkey over the Eagle, but after the choice was made, he certainly had opinions on both! In fact, according to the Franklin Institute, he sent a letter to his daughter giving his views on the seal design, and a few other things, as well. I just have to include it here because he made me laugh, as Franklin often does.
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen 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 near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird 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 Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…
“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison 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, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”
Hey, hold on here. Is it true that the American Bald Eagle steals his food from the Fishing Hawk (otherwise known as the Osprey)? We have Osprey on the pond, too. I’m not sure if that alleged fish-stealing behavior is smart or mean…or both! Debb, you’ll have to take a pic if you see this happening. We need proof that Franklin was right. Otherwise, I’m just going to go on believing that the Bald Eagle would never do such a thing.
Now, what about the part where a Kingbird will attack an Eagle and shoo him away!? That can’t be true. Maybe Franklin was making the point that the Bald Eagle wasn’t a fit symbol to represent America when faced with a tyrannical King. Of course, these early Americans were greatly vexed by the King of England so that made some sense. But what was it about this Kingbird that was so great and powerful?
Of course, now I had to learn more about the Eastern Kingbird. When I pulled up the Audobon webpage, the first thing I saw was the Latin name for the bird in question: Tyrannus tyrannus. So this little bird is aggressive enough to earn a name that means tyrant…twice!! Interesting tidbit (at least to me,) the Kingbird is part of a family called the Tyrant Flycatchers. One of the members of this family is the Eastern Wood Pee Wee. When I saw that I actually laughed out loud. If England can have a Great Tit, I guess it’s only fair that we can have a Wood Pee Wee. But I digress…
Franklin left me with another burning question. There was that bit about the eagle not being the proper emblem for the “brave and honest Cincinnati of America.” What does this bird kerfuffle have to do with a city in Ohio? Come to find out, ‘The Cincinnati of America’ was the first U.S.veterans’ organization whose first president was, you guessed it, George Washington! The city was actually named after that organization comprised of Revolutionary war heroes.
Just leave it to Franklin to send me down multiple rabbit holes all at once! And people wonder why I’m up half the night! *insert joke about night owls here* 😉 Once I start researching something, there’s no stopping me.
So there we have it. An American myth debunked…mostly, a majestic bird besmirched, a bit of satirical 18th-century political commentary, a little insight into my late night rabbit hole habits, and some info on a tyrannical bird the size of a sparrow.* And Cincinnati! One must never forget Cincinnati.
You just never know what you’ll find here on Everyone Else Has The Best Titles! And for those of you who made it to the end, I thank you. Just so I know who really did stick with me this far, please comment with the name of the bird you like best in this piece. All two of you. 😉
*In truth, Eastern Kingbirds are actually quite a bit bigger than most sparrows…I just looked it up! 😉