The Case For The Golden Eagle Instead Of The Bald Eagle As The National Emblem

Mar 4, 2017
Originally published on March 4, 2017 8:35 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for Talkin Birds.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A bird show - I like that. I love birds.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ray Brown's Talkin' Birds.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY LIKE AN EAGLE")

STEVE MILLER BAND: I want to fly like an eagle.

SIMON: Ray Brown is the host of radio show and podcast Talkin Birds. He joins us from the studios of WGBH in Boston. Ray, thanks for being back with us.

RAY BROWN: My pleasure. Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: If this country didn't have enough political controversies, you've brought us another. Should the United States - here's the proposition - consider changing the national emblem from the bald eagle to the golden eagle.

BROWN: Right. If you're going to choose a bird as a national symbol, shouldn't it be the most powerful and the fastest and the most fearsome bird? The bald eagle is mostly a scavenger. Now, it does catch live fish from time to time and occasionally other creatures. But the golden eagle is a hunter, and it's also one of the fastest birds on the planet - up to 200 miles an hour in a stoup or a dive. And the bald eagle can barely make a 100.

SIMON: Well, then why in their infinite wisdom didn't the Founding Fathers anoint the golden eagle as opposed to the bald eagle?

BROWN: Well, there was discussion about this. And I think originally they were going to name the golden eagle, but then it was determined, well, there some European countries that are using the golden eagles, so we don't want to necessarily share that with them.

SIMON: I try to take Ben Franklin as my guide on all of these...

BROWN: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...All of these questions at the foundation of America. What did Dr. Franklin think?

BROWN: Well, he called the bald eagle a bird of bad moral character. He said the bird was too lazy to fish for himself.

SIMON: Is it true that Ben Franklin thought the turkey should be America's symbol?

BROWN: This has been a myth for a long time that he actually proposed that. I don't think that's true. But he did write to his daughter, later, saying that he wished that the bald eagle had not been chosen. He actually, at one time, suggested a different creature altogether for our symbol. One, he said, reflected the temper and conduct of America, and it was the rattlesnake.

(SOUNDBITE OF SNAKE RATTLING)

SIMON: Oh, my word. I - we'll let's have both eagles make their case to us, OK? Let's introduce Mr. Bald Eagle.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALD EAGLE CALL)

SIMON: Well, come on, America. We can do better than that. Don't you think so?

BROWN: Yeah.

SIMON: And here...

BROWN: We have the golden eagle which is - well, we'll hear that one, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOLDEN EAGLE CALL)

SIMON: Oh, oh.

BROWN: Yeah. Sounds a little bit like a chihuahua.

SIMON: Well, (laughter) an eagle with presence - you know? - an eagle with star power, yeah.

BROWN: Yes. The golden eagle at least knows to keep quiet most of the time unlike the bald eagle. But, you know, Scott, a lot of times in movies, TV commercials and stuff, you'll see a visual of a bald eagle. And that sound is so wimpy - what they do is they dub in the sound of a red-tailed hawk.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED-TAILED HAWK CALL)

BROWN: That sounds like - more like what an eagle should sound like.

SIMON: So the red-tailed hawk is the Marni Nixon of the aviary world, right?

BROWN: Exactly. Yeah.

SIMON: Do we need a new national bird - a national symbol?

BROWN: Well, you know, Ben Franklin thought so. And John James Audubon thought so. And I have a feeling that many of the Founding Fathers would have thought so, but they were in the east. They may not have even known about the golden eagle. But I would submit that if they had known about it, they would have chosen it as our national symbol. And I figure it's not too late to make a change.

SIMON: Ray Brown, host of the radio show and podcast Talkin Birds, joining us from Boston. Ray, thanks so much for being with us.

BROWN: My pleasure as always, Scott. Thanks.

SIMON: Cue the eagle.

(SOUNDBITE OF TURKEY CALL)

SIMON: (Laughter).

BROWN: That's an eagle right there.

SIMON: It's amazing how much that turkey sounds like me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY LIKE AN EAGLE")

STEVE MILLER BAND: (Singing) I want to fly like an eagle to the sea.

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.