The state of New York used a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in its coat of arms in 1778 but it was not until 1782 that it was chosen to adorn the Great Seal of the United States. This choice was famously much against the desire of Benjamin Franklin who wrote, 'I wish that the bald eagle had not been chosen..., he is a bird of bad moral character, he does not get his living honestly,... he is a rank coward [and] by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest of America.' Franklin wanted the turkey, but was out-voted.

Having plumped for the bald eagle the nation could have been more caring towards it. Settlers blamed it for killing livestock and it was shot indiscriminately. By 1967, when it was officially declared an endangered species, only 400 breeding pairs were left in the lower 48 states. The pesticide DDT was banned in 1972 and this, with other measures, led to a resurgence in numbers to the present 6000 breeding pairs. The bald eagle is found only in North America.

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