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American Bald Eagle

Bald eagles are large birds of prey native to North America. Since 1782, the bald eagle has been the United States' national emblem and mascot. The bald eagle isn't actually bald; it gets its name because its white head against its dark brown body makes it seem bald from a distance. 

Even though they are a symbol for freedom in the United States, these birds are known for harassing smaller birds and stealing their prey, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. According to PBS Nature, Benjamin Franklin once said, "For my own part, I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly. … Besides he is a rank coward: The little king bird not bigger than a sparrow, attacks him boldly, and drives him out of the district." Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird, according to the American Eagle Foundation.

Bald eagles have a massive wingspread of about 7 feet (2.13 meters), according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their bodies are much smaller, though, at only 34 to 43 inches (86 to 109 centimeters). Normally, bald eagles weigh 6.5 to 14 pounds (3 to 6.5 kilograms). 

The bald eagle is found only in North America. For the most part, bald eagles live in forests that are near rivers, lakes, reservoirs, marshes and coasts. Some also live near fish processing plants, dumps and other areas where they can find food.

Bald eagles are typically solitary creatures. When there is abundant food, though, they may gather with others in groups of up to 400, according to the Michigan University Museum of Zoology

Though the bald eagle is revered in North America, it almost became extinct. Over-hunting was one cause of the population decline. Manmade products are also to blame. DDT, a pesticide, contaminated many of the fish that the birds ate. After eating contaminated fish, bald eagles would lay eggs with very thin shells, making reproduction difficult. Once the poison was restricted in the 1970s, the bald eagle population started to rebound, according to the National Geographic. Today, the bald eagle is not endangered. There are currently more than 10,000 bald eagles in North America, according to the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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