Smarty Pants Podcast

Bird of America

Jack E. Davis on how we revere and revile the bald eagle

By Stephanie Bastek | May 27, 2022
“A Royal Marauder Comes to a Deserved End,” distributed by the NRA in the 1930s (Preston Cook Collection)
“A Royal Marauder Comes to a Deserved End,” distributed by the NRA in the 1930s (Preston Cook Collection)

Few birds enjoy the stature that the bald eagle has attained in the United States. It adorns our national seal, several denominations of currency, and T-shirts from coast to coast, with bonded pairs nesting everywhere from the National Arboretum to Dollywood. But not even 100 years ago, the bald eagle was hunted to the verge of extinction even while it was celebrated as a majestic symbol of independence. Children were taught that it was a threat to society or, worse, that it might kidnap and devour them. And just when we began to right our wrongs with the passage of the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, we nearly killed off our national symbol again with DDT. Pulitzer Prize–winner Jack E. Davis swoops through five centuries of history to tell the bird’s improbable story in The Bald Eagle.

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