In the vast history and landscape of the United States, there are two animals that stand out: the majestic bald eagle, which soars through the sky, and the strong bison, which thunders across the plains. These United States national animals not only show off the country’s diverse landscape and wild spirit but also tell a story of survival, victory, and the strong bond between a country and its natural wonders.
Let’s get into the fascinating stories behind the United States’ chosen icons and find out how important they are to the country as a whole.
2 United States National Animals
1. National Mammal: American bison
- Scientific Name: Bison bison
The American bison is among the native mammals you’ll find in North America, primarily inhabiting open grasslands, prairies, and river valleys. They’re migratory by nature and can travel approximately three kilometers in search of food, feeding primarily on grasses and sedges.
In addition to their role in the environment, bison also play an important cultural and spiritual role for many Native American tribes. They’re honored in various ceremonies, used in crafting, and associated with religious prophecies; all of these things are symbolic of the important role that they play in the survival, history, and spirituality of Native American people.
When was the American bison designated?
On May 9, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bison Legacy Act, making the American bison the first national mammal of the United States. Conservationists, ranchers, and tribal groups like the InterTribal Buffalo Council and the Wildlife Conservation Society worked together to achieve the bison’s protected status.
The bison has joined the bald eagle as another emblem of the United States heritage, resiliency, and conservation efforts in the animal kingdom.
Why was it chosen?
This historic decision to make the bison a national symbol came after a dramatic journey from near extinction. Once numbering in the tens of millions, they were reduced to a few dozen in the wild due to years of aggressive over hunting. Their numbers, however, have been steadily increasing thanks to conservation efforts, and this is widely recognized as the first coordinated national effort to save wild animal species in the United States.
Additionally, the designation honors the bison’s cultural and spiritual significance to Native American tribes, who once relied on these magnificent animals for sustenance. American bison were also named the official animals of different states and were even used as mascots by many sports teams.
Interesting facts about the National mammal
- Bison are the largest land mammal in North America, with a maximum weight of 2,600 pounds and a height of 6 feet, 7 inches. Females are lighter and smaller than males, and newborn calves weigh between 30 and 70 pounds. They’re the heaviest and second-tallest land animals in North America, behind only the moose.
- Teddy Roosevelt went from being a bison hunter to being a leading conservationist. In 1905, he and William Hornaday co-founded the American Bison Society, a pioneering effort to save the species from extinction. As a result of Roosevelt’s conservation efforts, the bison population in the United States was saved from complete annihilation, and protective legislation was enacted.
- Bison are nearsighted but make up for it with excellent hearing and smell. They communicate with each other with different grunts, and bulls use resonant bellows when they’re mating. Despite their visual impairment, they are well-equipped thanks to their acute sense of smell, which aids them in mating and detecting danger.
2. National Bird: Bald Eagle
- Scientific Name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus
The American bald eagle is a magnificent bird that’s not only native to the United States but also carries a great deal of significance in the traditions and cultures of Native Americans. Since they consume fish most of the time, you’ll typically find them in habitats close to large open water bodies.
They hunt by swooping down over the water and grabbing their prey with their talons, and when gliding, these animals are capable of reaching speeds of between 56 and 70 kilometers per hour (35 and 43 miles per hour). The wingspan of a bald eagle can range from 1.8 to 2.3 meters (6 feet 11 inches to 7 feet 7 inches), making it one of the largest true raptors in North America. Bald eagles can also grow to be as long as 70–102 centimeters (28–40 inches) in length.
When was the bald eagle designated?
The bald eagle was chosen to represent the United States of America as the country’s official national bird. The first time it was used as a symbol of the United States of America was on a copper cent minted in the state of Massachusetts in 1776. Since then, it has started appearing on a variety of coins.
In 1782, Charles Thomson and William Barton were commissioned to design the Great Seal of the United States of America and the eagle was selected to be a prominent feature of the seal. After that, this seal was used on various official documents, currency, and other items associated with the government, further solidifying the bald eagle’s position as a national symbol in the United States.
Why was it chosen?
William Barton, who was responsible for designing the United States seal, believed that the bald eagle exemplified characteristics that perfectly aligned with the nation’s goals and ideals.
In addition, the qualities of bravery, independence, and longevity embodied by the bald eagle resonated with the values upon which the newly made nation of the United States was founded. It’s standing as a species that has always been native to North America lends additional support to its bid to be chosen as the country’s official bird.
Interesting facts about the National Bird
- Bald eagles are known for their incredible strength and architectural prowess, as evidenced by their nests’ enormous size and weight (typically eight feet wide by twelve feet high and weighing more than two tons). These magnificent eagles typically construct their nests within 200 meters (660 feet) of open water, high in trees, or on cliffs, giving the birds a commanding view of the surrounding area. The largest nest ever recorded for this species was nearly 10 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
- These birds of prey are renowned for their talons, which can exert a crushing force of up to 400 psi. Raptors, like eagles, have developed strong leg muscles and tendons that give them a vice-like grip on their prey. As an example of how powerfully nature has crafted these top predators, an eagle’s grip is ten times as strong as a human hand.
- The bald eagle boasts an eyesight that’s four to eight times sharper than a human’s. Eagles’ 20/5 vision allows them to spot prey as small as a rabbit from as far away as two miles, a distance at which humans would need binoculars. They need to have excellent eyesight to spot prey at great distances.
- “Why Is the Bald Eagle America’s National Bird?,” B. Radford, Live Science, September 13, 2010, livescience.com
- “Bison joins bald eagle as symbol of United States,” C. Barron, Washington Post, May 10, 2016, washingtonpost.com
- “It’s official: America’s first national mammal is the bison,” E. Izadi, Washington Post, May 9, 2016, washingtonpost.com