Four decades after it was declared endangered, in honor of Independence Day, the bald eagle has taken itself off the Endangered Species List.
It was the Continental Congress who appointed the bird our official symbol in 1782, the centerpiece of the Great Seal of the United States. With outstretched wings, its talons balance the powers of war and peace.
Not all welcomed the beak. The dissent?
Ben Franklin. Writing in a letter to his daughter, “I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral character.”
That’s right, buddy, bad moral character. Franklin’s choice? The Wild Turkey.
“…the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable Bird,” Mr. Franklin continued, “… though a little vain and silly, a Bird of Courage”
In 1999, former President Clinton said “the press would be having a field day with that to the present day, wouldn’t they?”
Yes, we would be.
And thus, began the wild turkey’s dramatic tailspin into a lifetime of alcoholismand embarrassment.
“See the turkey was already nervous to begin with, nobody’s told him much about the pardon I’m about to give him,” President Bush said in 2006.
And if the turkey was depressed, the eagle found itself inperil. Decades of rapid expansion and poaching threatened its population and habitat. Ultimately, it was exposure to the pesticide DDT that led to the bird’s dramatic decline.
By 1967 the bald eagle was heading the way of the dodo bird—and pronounced endangered.
But this cultural icon remained resolute finding itself on the sidelines and on spacecraft, fodder for satire and material for the Muppets.
Shifting from “endangered” to “de-listed”, providing inspiration to the United States Postal Service…and the Steve Miller Band.
The eagle is back from the brink.