If you follow me on twitter (@NatDoesScience) you’ll notice that on occasion, I tweet about Bald Eagles.
This is mainly because I still haven’t seen one in the wild, despite the fact that they’re not as rare as they’re used to be.
And it’s not for lack of trying, I religiously look at the eBird for Bald Eagle sightings in my area, within a reasonable driving distance. The Richmond area isn’t itself a Bald Eagle hotspot, but they’re around and get reported somewhat regularly, and yet…
I have very strong feelings about Bald Eagles, most of them negative and involving a very creative string of swears. Not because I haven’t seen one, oh no that’s perfectly fine I am so content with not seeing a Bald Eagle, yeah they aren’t that cool and so everyone has seen one but me yeah that doesn’t really matter it’s whatever. It’s because they aren’t as cool as everyone makes them out to be, I could easily name birds that are easily 20-30% cooler than Bald Eagles and are also found in the United States. With that, I bring you the Fourth of July edition of:
My Top Five Reasons Why Bald Eagles Aren’t All That and a Bag of Chips
1) They don’t actually have an impressive call
Bald Eagles do not sound as cool as movies or fictional television portrays them. In movies, they have an almost scary, murderous scream, a sound you’d hear in your worst nightmare being chased by velociraptors. The cold, hard reality is this is what Bald Eagles actually sound like. This is what The Entertainment Industry wants you to think Bald Eagles (and to be fair every other predatory bird) sounds like, a Red-tailed Hawk. You know what bird actually sounds like a Red-tailed Hawk without needing a voice-over? Blue Jays. You know what bird sounds like a tweenage girl squealing at a One Direction concert? Bald Eagles. I personally enjoy the description of the Bald Eagle call in the Birds of North America entry which reads as:
“Voice characterized by Bent as “ridiculously weak and insignificant.” Described by Brewster “weak in volume and trivial in expression…it consists of seven or eight notes given rather quickly, but haltingly and with apparent difficulty, as if their author was choking or gasping for breath. It cannot fittingly be called a scream, but is rather a snickering laugh expressive of imbecile derision, rather than anything else. My notes render it thus— Ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ki-ker .”
2) As far as hunting goes, they’re pretty meh
“Wow, a predatory bird that eats fish, how special,” said the Osprey, Stellar’s Sea Eagle, and African Fish Eagle rolling their eyes, “Don’t forget they eat mammals and birds too,” smirked the Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and every owl in existence (side note: can birds actually roll their eyes?). Bald Eagles are pretty much like every other predatory bird in terms of diet; fish and mammals, sometimes they hunt waterfowl as well. But are they throwing goats off cliffs like the Golden Eagle? Are they diving at 180 miles per hour to make a kill like Peregrine Falcons? Are they coordinating movements to hunt like Harris Hawks? Are they itty-bitty serial impalers like shrikes? Nope, just the standard swoop and grab. Which is okay, if you like that sort of thing. Fun fact: did you know Bald Eagles also scavenge and steal food from other eagles/birds/mammals? They’re basically the pirates of the sky with how much they’re willing to go after another bird to steal a fish. They’re also known to be quite adept dumpster divers as well, google images was not lacking in the “dumpster chicken” section.
3) There’s like a bajillion (give or take) other birds that have a more interesting appearance
Bald Eagles are brown birds with a white head+tail and yellow beak+talons. There’s no majestic iridescent sheen to their feathers or subtle barring. Just brown and white. Meh.
I’m sure there are people out there that love the simplicity of the coloration, the striking contrast of the white head atop a brown body but not me 🙂 Maybe if there weren’t so many other brown and white birds in the United States to compare them to…
And that’s just listing a few pictures of birds that fall in the brown and white category. I didn’t even bring out the colorful birds like Green Jays, Painted Buntings, and Vermilion Flycatchers. Let’s not forget the birds that have cool feathers (Scissor-tailed Flycatcher I’m looking at you).
4) They were in competition with the Wild Turkey to be America’s symbol
To be fair, Bald Eagles were also in competition with Golden Eagles to be America’s symbol, and Golden Eagles are pretty wicked. But Turkeys? There’s not really anything wrong with turkeys, they’re America’s low budget peacock, but c’mon…it’s a turkey. Benjamin Franklin was pushing for the turkey to represent America because he too was an eagle hater (#solidarity). Franklin thought that turkeys were the better choice because besides being a bird native to the United States (but really also all of North America), they were more respectable(?) and courageous than the Bald Eagle. To quote Ben Franklin on the topic of Bald Eagles:
“I wish the eagle had not been chosen as the representative of this country. He is a bird of bad moral character; he does not get his living honestly. You may have seen him perched in some dead tree where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the fishing hawk and, when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish and is bearing it to his nest for his young ones, the bald eagle pursues him and takes the fish. With all this injustice, he is never in good case.”
5) The scientific name is pretty lame
The scientific name of the Bald Eagle is Haliaeetus leucocephalus which literally means “Sea-eagle white head”. While I understand that not all scientific names aren’t going to be winners, this does nothing to help the Bald Eagle’s image. They’re already bald, they eat out of trash cans or steal from other birds, they have a call that sounds like they’re gasping for air, and on top of it, they have a scientific name that is so uncreative, so obvious, so pedestrian! The scientific name of Gray catbirds is Dumetella caronlinensis which means “Small thornbush-dweller of the Carolinas” is so much better, much more literary, refined, mysterious even. The scientific name of the Blue Jay (a bird that can actually sound like a Red-tailed Hawk) is Cyanocitta cristata, which means “blue-chatterer crested/tufted” is an obvious scientific name like the Bald Eagle. However, Blue Jays have so much going for them like call mimicry, aggression (they’re known for attacking larger, predatory birds), and intelligence (but to be fair, their family Corvidae is full of brainy birds) that they can overcome an obvious meaning scientific name.
Bald Eagles can’t play bagpipes and they can’t knit! Even I can do one of those two things. Get your hobbies together eagles. (Also thank you to my girl Connie at Whimsical Science for the suggestions).
Bald Eagles y’all, they’re not so cool. Is this writing biased because I’ve been trying to see them over a two year period without any success? Psh…maybe. Will my opinion of them change when I finally see one? Probably not. I’m at the point where under the layer of saltiness I have for not seeing a Bald Eagle is only more salt, and a single eagle sighting will not dissolve me that quickly. Are they still birds and therefore fall under the topic of interesting to me? Yeah…I guess, but it doesn’t mean I have to like them! Do y’all have any birds that really bring out your saltiness or make you roll your eyes at the mention of their name? What about nemesis birds? Let me know in the comments below, #BitterBirders unite!