The United States of America, a vast and diverse nation, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, encompassing a variety of landscapes and wildlife. Among its rich biodiversity, two animals stand out, having been chosen as symbols of the nation’s strength and freedom: the majestic bald eagle and the resilient American bison.
While many recognize the bald eagle’s soaring silhouette or the bison’s robust stature, fewer might know about the incredible comeback stories of these animals from the brink of extinction. Read on to uncover their fascinating tales and discover why they’ve earned their esteemed titles.
Quick Info About These Animals
|Scientific Name:||Haliaeetus leucocephalus|
|Average Size:||Length: 70-102 cm (28-40 in); Wingspan: 1.8-2.3 m (5.9-7.5 ft)|
|Average Weight:||3-6.3 kg (6.6-13.9 lbs)|
|Average Lifespan:||In the wild: up to 28 years; In captivity: can exceed 36 years|
|Geographical Range:||Throughout North America, from Alaska and Canada down to northern Mexico|
|Habitat:||Near bodies of water including lakes, rivers, marshes, and seacoasts|
|Conservation Status:||Least Concern (IUCN Red List)|
|Scientific Name:||Bison bison|
|Average Size:||Length: 3.5-3.8 m (11.5-12.5 ft) from head to tail|
|Average Weight:||Males: 930-1,100 kg (2,050-2,430 lbs); Females: 540-635 kg (1,190-1,400 lbs)|
|Average Lifespan:||In the wild: 13-21 years; In captivity: can exceed 25 years|
|Geographical Range:||Historically, from Alaska down to northern Mexico; currently, in national parks and refuges in the U.S. and Canada|
|Habitat:||Grasslands, plains, and river valleys|
|Conservation Status:||Near Threatened (IUCN Red List)|
Meet The National Animals of The United States
The bald eagle, a raptor of striking appearance, is recognized by its stark white head, contrasted with its dark brown body and wings. Its tail is also white, and its eyes, legs, and beak gleam with a bold yellow.
Adult males typically have a wingspan of up to 2.3 meters, while females, slightly larger, may have even broader wings. This sexual dimorphism, with females being up to 25% larger than males, is common among birds of prey.
In the ecosystem, the bald eagle sits atop the food chain as an apex predator. Its diet primarily consists of fish, but it doesn’t shy away from scavenging carrion or snatching smaller birds and mammals.
With their keen eyesight, they can spot prey almost two miles away. In terms of predators, while adult bald eagles have few natural threats, their eggs and chicks can fall prey to raccoons, ravens, and other large birds.
The American bison, often referred to as buffalo, boasts a massive, robust frame. Its thick, shaggy mane and broad shoulders give it a distinctive hump-backed appearance.
Males, known as bulls, are typically larger than females (cows) and possess a thicker mane. Their sharp, curving horns, which can grow up to two feet long, serve both as tools for foraging and weapons in confrontations.
Within their ecosystem, bison primarily graze on grasses, sedges, and forbs. They play a crucial ecological role by influencing the composition of the North American grasslands, aiding seed dispersal and creating habitats for other species by their grazing patterns. Predators of the bison, especially calves, include wolves and mountain lions.
Where Do These Animals Live?
Preferring habitats near water, bald eagles are commonly found along the coasts, rivers, large lakes, and marshes across North America. These environments not only offer them an abundant supply of fish but also tall trees for nesting. Historically, they ranged broadly from Alaska and Canada through the contiguous United States to northern Mexico.
Although their populations dwindled in the mid-20th century due to hunting and the effects of the pesticide DDT, conservation efforts have seen their numbers rebound impressively.
Once roaming the vast grasslands of North America in massive herds, the American bison was an emblematic sight from eastern US forests to the Rocky Mountains, and from Alaska to Mexico. Sadly, by the late 1800s, overhunting and habitat loss reduced their numbers dramatically.
Today, wild populations are primarily confined to national parks and reserves like Yellowstone and the National Bison Range. These majestic creatures have adapted to life across a range of environments, from the hot, arid grasslands of the American Great Plains to the cooler, more temperate regions of the US and Canada.
Why and When Did The Beaver Become The National Animal of Canada?
The bald eagle was adopted as the national bird symbol of the United States in 1782. It’s not only a representation of freedom and strength but also longevity and honesty.
The Founding Fathers of the US saw the bald eagle as a symbol of the nation’s democracy and its enduring spirit, and its fierce independence and majestic beauty made it an instant emblem of national pride.
Interestingly, Benjamin Franklin once voiced his disapproval of the bald eagle’s selection. In a letter to his daughter, he expressed a preference for the wild turkey, deeming it a more respectable bird and finding the bald eagle of “bad moral character” due to its scavenging habits.
However, the majesty and might associated with the eagle prevailed in its designation as the country’s representative symbol.
The bison was declared the national mammal of the United States in 2016. Its role in America’s history is profound. The bison was central to the livelihood, culture, and spirituality of many Native American tribes. These mighty creatures, once numbering in the tens of millions, represented the vastness and richness of the American frontier.
The bison’s near-extinction in the 19th century, followed by its remarkable recovery, mirrors the American narrative of striving, decline, and resurgence. Thus, it symbolizes resilience, unity, and the American spirit.
Controversially, the massive decline of the bison was not merely due to unregulated hunting but was also a result of government policies that sought to limit resources for Native American tribes, for whom the bison was a vital resource. This dark chapter has led to debates about conservation, responsibility, and the treatment of indigenous peoples.
Where are the Bald Eagle and American Bison featured in The USA?
The bald eagle, an iconic symbol, graces the Great Seal of the United States. It’s featured prominently with its wings spread wide, holding an olive branch and arrows in its talons, symbolizing the nation’s commitment to peace and readiness for war.
This image appears on various government documents, including the passport. The bald eagle also appears on currency, most notably on the reverse side of the quarter-dollar coin and on the Presidential Seal.
Additionally, various military insignias and emblems employ the image of the bald eagle, representing authority and freedom.
While the bison might not be as ubiquitously featured as the bald eagle, it has had its appearances. The animal is depicted on the buffalo nickel coin produced from 1913 to 1938. More recently, since the bison’s designation as a national symbol, its image has become prevalent in national park literature and conservation campaigns.
Moreover, several states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, have adopted the bison as a state symbol, and its likeness appears on various state flags and emblems.
Names of The The Animals
- Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Common Names: American eagle In some indigenous languages, the bald eagle is known by names that reference its appearance or characteristics. For instance, in the Lakota language, the bald eagle is referred to as “Wámbli Gíleška,” which translates to “Spotted Eagle.”
- Scientific Name: Bison bison
- Synonym: Bos bison
- Common Names: Buffalo (though this is technically incorrect, as true buffaloes are native to Africa and Asia) In various Native American languages, the bison has unique names. The Lakota people call it “Tȟatȟáŋka,” which is often interpreted as “buffalo” or “bull.”
Are The Bald Eagle and The American Bison Endangered?
Once on the brink of extinction in the contiguous United States due to hunting, habitat loss, and the effects of the pesticide DDT, the bald eagle population has rebounded. It was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species list in 2007.
Continued conservation efforts, the banning of DDT, and legal protection have played a pivotal role in its recovery. However, they still face threats from habitat destruction, pollution, and collisions with power lines.
At one time, there were tens of millions of bison roaming North America, but by the 19th century, they were near extinction, with fewer than a thousand remaining. Thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers have since increased, and they are no longer classified as endangered.
However, the majority of bison today live in managed herds on reserves or ranches. Threats include habitat loss and interbreeding with domestic cattle. The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council and the American Prairie Reserve are among the organizations working to restore the bison to its natural habitat in large numbers.
Interesting Facts About The Bald Eagle
- The bald eagle isn’t actually bald. The term “bald” comes from an old English word, “balde,” meaning white, referring to the white feathers on its head and tail.
- They have incredible vision, allowing them to see a rabbit or other prey from nearly two miles away.
- Bald eagles are known to mate for life, and they build some of the largest nests of any bird species, often returning to the same nest year after year.
- Their role in Native American cultures is profound, with the eagle often symbolizing spiritual protection, carrier of prayers, and strength.
Interesting Facts About The Bison
- Bison have a thick coat that sheds in the spring, allowing them to survive in the harsh winters of North America.
- Despite their massive size, bison are agile and can run up to 35 miles per hour.
- They play a key role in the prairie ecosystem by grazing, which helps to stimulate the growth of native grasses.
- Bison wallows, depressions in the ground formed by bison rolling in the dirt, can benefit other wildlife and promote plant diversity.
- Native American tribes have a deep cultural, spiritual, and economic connection to bison. They were used for food, shelter, tools, and clothing, and are present in many indigenous stories and rituals.
Other Beautiful Animals Native To The United States
- Gray Wolf (Canis lupus): An iconic predator, the gray wolf once roamed throughout most of North America. They play a vital role in maintaining the health of their ecosystem by keeping deer and elk populations in check.
- Mountain Lion (Puma concolor): Also known as the cougar or puma, the mountain lion is a highly adaptable big cat that inhabits a wide range of habitats across the country. They are solitary and elusive, making them a rare but majestic sight.
- California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus): With a wingspan of nearly 10 feet, the California condor is the largest flying bird in North America. These scavengers were once critically endangered but are now gradually increasing in number due to concerted conservation efforts.
- Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis): These ancient reptiles inhabit the southeastern wetlands of the U.S., particularly in states like Florida and Louisiana. Alligators play a crucial role in maintaining the biodiversity of their habitat.
- Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana): Often mistaken for antelopes, pronghorns are unique to North America. Renowned for their incredible speed, they are the second-fastest land mammal in the world, second only to the cheetah.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is the bald eagle important to America?
The bald eagle is a symbol of freedom, strength, and independence in the United States. Chosen as the national bird in 1782, its image has become synonymous with American values and patriotism.
Are bison and buffalo the same animal?
No, while “buffalo” is commonly used in the U.S. to refer to the American bison, true buffaloes are native to Africa and Asia, such as the African cape buffalo and the Asian water buffalo.
How many feathers does a bald eagle have?
A bald eagle has between 5,000 to 7,500 feathers. These feathers play a crucial role in insulation, waterproofing, and aerodynamics.
Why were bison nearly driven to extinction?
In the 19th century, bison were hunted on an industrial scale for their hides and meat, leading to a rapid decline in their population. Additionally, westward expansion and habitat loss contributed to their near-extinction.
Is it legal to own an eagle feather in the U.S.?
Under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, it’s illegal to possess, sell, or purchase eagle feathers in the U.S. without a permit. The law was enacted to protect these iconic birds from persecution and illegal trade.