If you ask the average American to describe the perfect symbol for the United States, they would most likely reply with the bald eagle. This majestic creature has long served as a representation of the nation’s strength and majesty. But how much do you know about this iconic bird? Besides the fact that it was once on the endangered species list, most people don’t know very much about them. Well, we’ve got some interesting trivia for you with five eye-opening facts about this iconic American symbol.
The real sound of a bald eagle is actually hilarious
Most of us have watched a movie with a bald eagle soaring in the air making a regal cry. But this is totally false and not at all what a real bald eagle sounds like. In 2012, NPR released a story that showcased what the bird’s actual cries sound like—and it isn’t pretty. Instead of that rich throaty shriek, it was more of a cute squeaky giggle. There’s nothing regal or impressive about that, nor would a sound that hysterical make you think of strength or might! So in Hollywood, they tend to dub over actual bald eagle sounds with the piercing cry of a red-tailed hawk instead.
The females are bigger than the males
This is a reversal from most of what we know about the animal kingdom. Typically the male is bigger than the female, and in the case of birds, the male bird tends to be more ornately colored while the female is plain and smaller. But in the case of the bald eagle, both male and females look exactly the same. However, the female tends to be anywhere from 25 to 33 percent larger.
Some ornithologists speculate that this is because the female oversees the bulk of the nest building and egg incubation duties. So, a bigger body would be more useful when building structures or intimidating predators to prevent them from stealing eggs. Still, male bald eagles do their fair share of the heavy lifting when it comes to prepping for the arrival of their young and caring for them.
Birds of prey...or lazy scavengers?
Bald eagles are birds of prey. They have bodies designed for effective hunting, catching, and killing their food. But this bird can be incredibly lazy when it comes to sourcing food. In fact, they’re known to stalk and intimidate other predatory animals after a successful hunt and then steal their food! More commonly, they’ll even get into tussles with other animals—especially birds—and steal the food right out of their claws. For the most part, bald eagles are bigger than other birds of prey, so they tend to have the upper hand in these mid-air dog fights.
In more populated areas, the patriotic symbol is really no more than a scavenger and in extreme cases a menace to locals. The birds have been known to hang around fishing docks and even behind grocery stores or meat packing plants waiting for scraps to be dumped. In one town in Alaska, the birds are so invasive and bold that they’ve been known to steal grocery bags right out of people’s hands. However, if you find yourself at the losing end of a food battle with a bald eagle, don’t get any ideas. They’re a protected species, and doing any harm to them can lead to federal penalties.
The bald eagle’s scavenging behavior made Founding Father Benjamin Franklin recommend against making them a national symbol. He’s quoted as saying that the bald eagle “is a bird of bad moral character” because “He does not get his Living honestly.” Don’t let these qualities fool you. Bald eagles have successfully hunted prey as large as deer fawn, seal pups, and beavers.
Bald eagles mate for life
File this under “awwww.” The bald eagle is a “one and done” kind of bird. Once they find their mate around the age of four or five, that’s their partner for life. And that can be a long time as many members of this species can live for decades. Recently in 2015, an elder bald eagle passed away at the age of 38 in upstate New York. It was the oldest recorded bald eagle in the wild and was part of the original conservation efforts from the ’70s through the ’90s to bring the species' population back from the brink because of hunting and DDT.
They’re found only in North America, but they have a few international relatives
The bald eagle truly is native to North America. While it might be the national symbol for the U.S., the quirky bird is also natively found in Canada and northern Mexico, although Mexico claims the golden eagle as their national symbol. The bald eagle is part of the Haliaeetus genus and has seven close relatives around the world. Its most popular relative is the African fish eagle, the national symbol of Zambia.
Cover image credit: Michaël Fournier / iStock