The bald eagle became the unofficial symbol of the U.S. as part of the Great Seal of the
United States when it was adopted on June 20, 1782. The official designation as our national
bird and symbol did not occur for another seven years, in 1789. During those seven years,
there were those who felt the bald eagle was not the best symbol for our new country. Most
famously, Benjamin Franklin thought bald eagles were “of bad moral character” and so he
suggested the wild turkey would be more suitable. Obviously, Ben’s argument did not succeed.
As amazing and brilliant as Benjamin Franklin was, most Americans would have to say it is a good thing he didn’t have his way on that particular issue. It is hard now, these many years
later, to think of our nation and not think also of our majestic national symbol. But what would our founding fathers have thought if they could have looked ahead and seen a future where the symbol of their new nation was vanishing? Would they have wondered about the greatness of their new United States, a nation that selected a national symbol that had become threatened by the growth of this young country? Was this the nation they envisioned? Probably not, but if they were to look a bit farther into the future, into our modern time, they would indeed see a wonderful example of a people who saw their national symbol in trouble—and did something about it. This was surely the kind of nation they thought they were creating.
Bald eagles were common in this country before it was settled, but wetland destruction and
human persecution resulted in their disappearance from much of the country, even by Gene
Stratton-Porter’s time. It is unlikely she ever saw them as she wandered the Limberlost. The
last recorded nest in Indiana was in 1895. Then, in the middle of the 1900s, the widespread use of the insecticide DDT caused the eggshells of the few remaining breeding eagles to thin and crack, so an already damaged population was weakened further. Bald eagles still were plentiful in Alaska, but in the rest of the states our national symbol was in serious trouble.
Our nation then did what great nations do—study the problem, understand what steps need
to be taken, and do what is necessary. DDT was banned. Many wetlands were restored.
Protective laws were passed. Eagles were reintroduced back into many areas they had vanished from, including Indiana. Between 1985 and 1989, 73 young eagles were released in Indiana, and by 1991 the first chicks were hatched. By the mid-1990s, there were a dozen nesting sites in our state. In 2013, the DNR quit counting nests because there were too many to keep track of—over 300!
We take great pride in our national flag and have rules on the proper ways to display it and
dispose of worn ones. Why should we show less care and concern for our national symbol?
The United States of America is not a country that would allow its national symbol to vanish
without a fight. The battle was won. Bald eagles are back and doing better than ever. We have yet another reason for our citizens to proclaim they are “proud to be an American.”