Eagle has landed

It was the wing span that caught our attention. Outstretched from tapered tip to tip, the dark form high in the bright blue noontime sky seemed to us even wider than the spans of the turkey vultures which often circle the farm fields where we live.

When we squinted we could glimpse the white plumage underneath the dark silhouette — it was without question a bald eagle.

Hoping for a clearer view, we pulled over. Imagine that. We were parked on the side of a busy state highway just 2 miles from a small town population center watching this magnificent raptor riding the air currents; watching a bird that within my memory had been considered one of a rare and endangered species. And the even more astounding thing to us was that just weeks earlier, we had seen a bald eagle perched in a tree near our house.

We can thank the Indiana Department of Natural Resources for re-introducing the bald eagle to our state. Back in 1985 the DNR began a program of releasing young bald eagles in the Lake Monroe area, and by 2007 the population had grown enough to remove it from the state’s endangered species list. We can also thank the United States Congress for its part in the rescue of these birds with laws going back to the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. Even for small-government types, surely these are examples of good and appropriate legislation.

And speaking of appropriate legislation, just recently a bevy of second-graders was lobbying state lawmakers in an attempt to have the firefly designated as the official state insect. Except for the fact that growing up everyone I knew referred to them as “lightning bugs,” (the insects, not the lawmakers) I am totally on-board with the idea of a state insect. Well, as long as it is not a mosquito.

Naming birds, trees, flowers and even insects is something of an obligation for states in our country. And why not? It does no harm and instills a bit of state pride. I can’t imagine why it would cost much extra money although I am constantly amazed at the ways government representatives can spend other people’s tax dollars.

National governments also like to name animals as official symbols. Lions are popular in many parts of the world as are various species of eagles (although no other country claims the bald eagle as a symbol). As you might guess, many of the animals are indigenous to the region.

Australia’s symbol is the red kangaroo while Indonesia goes with the Komodo dragon. India designates the Bengal tiger as national animal and the King cobra as the national reptile. Our neighbor Mexico not only has a national bird (golden eagle) but a national mammal (jaguar) as well as a national arthropod (grasshopper). To our north, our Canadian friends are proud to claim the North American beaver as their national animal.

Scotland’s animal symbol is of particular interest because it is a mythical beast — the unicorn. I’ll bet some of those second-grade girls at the statehouse would be happy to lobby for the Indiana state unicorn as well as the lightning bug, er, firefly.

I grew up believing Ben Franklin lobbied for the wild turkey as the national bird. Not much evidence supports this although he did write a letter to his daughter from Paris explaining why he was not a fan of the bald eagle as “a representative of our country” insisting it “… is a bird of bad moral character … does not get his living honestly … a rank coward …” and so on. In the same letter he notes the turkey has more courage.

Well, I for one am glad bald eagles are our national bird and am pleased that some legislators in the past had the wisdom to try to make it so we can enjoy them today. Now if they could just get to work on our state insect — and after that maybe the state unicorn.