Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Guin from Fort Riley. Guin Wonders, “Why is the bald eagle a symbol of the United States?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Guin!
What's the most patriotic thing you can think of? How about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington flying around the Statue of Liberty while riding on the backs of bald eagles and waving copies of the Declaration of Independence?
That would certainly be a sight! All of those things definitely tend to stir up feelings of patriotism, but arguably the most inspiring of all is the fierce bald eagle. It's no WONDER it's the national bird of the United States!
Once an endangered species, the bald eagle used to be a rare sight, adding to its mystery and inspirational impact. Today, however, bald eagle numbers have increased to the point where they're no longer endangered.
They're still far from a common sight, though. In most areas of the United States, you won't look out your window and see bald eagles like you might see flocks of pigeons, blackbirds, or cardinals. The exception, of course, is if you happen to live in the bald eagle capital of the U.S.: Unalaska, Alaska.
Despite being the largest city in the Aleutian Islands off mainland Alaska, Unalaska is home to fewer than 5,000 people. And even though Unalaska Island itself is nearly 80 miles long, most of the population lives in an area of just a few square miles — and shares that area with about 600 bald eagles.
Why do so many bald eagles flock to Unalaska? The answer is quite simple: food. Fish is the primary staple of the bald eagle diet, and Unalaska sits right next to Dutch Harbor, which happens to be one of the world's largest fishing ports.
Unalaska processes more fish than any other port in the U.S. As boats pull into the harbor, bald eagles swarm the boats to steal as many fish as they can before crew members shoo them away.
The garbage created by processors and the local landfill also present bald eagles with a continuous buffet that lasts all year long. Bald eagles are fierce scavengers, so they will search boats, the landfill, and everything in between looking for anything edible.
Bald eagles also like to make their nests near reliable food sources. They usually nest in trees, but Unalaska has very few trees. Instead, they tend to make their nests on top of tall cliffs or in man-made structures.
Since they're also very territorial, their nesting habits have created problems for the people who live in Unalaska. According to experts, you're more likely to be attacked by a bald eagle in Unalaska than anywhere else in the U.S.
People who unknowingly get too close to a bald eagle's nest may find themselves on the run from an angry eagle. Although local law enforcement officials regularly put up signs to notify residents about nesting areas, a dozen or more people find themselves in the hospital every year with lacerations caused by sharp eagle talons.
Like pigeons in large cities, bald eagles are pests to many of the residents of Unalaska. Nevertheless, they're still majestic and they're still the national bird. As a result, Unalaska residents tend to love them despite their potential for danger.