Eagles in Disguise
Entry for 2017-07-02

Between news items about doves and hawks, there has appeared a television commercial in which the Audubon Society asks hunters to refrain from shooting bald eagles. Since the young eagle is hard to identify until his plumage matures at age three, the commercial simply suggests: "Don't shoot any large, brown bird."


Since 1782, the Government has been publishing pictures of the bald eagle. He is green on a dollar bill; silver on a quarter or half dollar; gold on an army officer's cap or button; bronze on the local post office plaque; red, blue, or black on government documents and letterheads; and halftone gray on last year's Form 1040.

After a lifetime of exposure to green, gold, bronze, red, blue, black, and silver eagles, the hunter might understandably assume that a large, brown bird is a chicken hawk.

Fortunately for the bemused sportsman, coloring is not his only point of reference. He can also watch for markings, comparing the bird in his sights with the numerous bald eagle pictures that the Treasury Department and others have furnished over the years.

The alert hunter will hold fire when he spots a large bird with a shield on its chest, arrows in one talon, and an olive branch in the other. He will think twice before volleying at a large, gray bird holding a scales, like the one on his income tax return. And if these visual guidelines aren't sufficient, more help is on the way.

About the time the save-the-eagle commercials began to appear, the Treasury Department issued the most ambitious eagle picture in its history: stars on one wing, stripes on the other, and a stern, white eye glowering from a crimson head above a blue shoulder. This heraldic tour de force is a symbol for the "Star Spangled Freedom Plan," a payroll savings arrangement that combines Series E Bonds with "Freedom Shares." (My description is based on cover art for a Freedom Shares promotional booklet called "Handbook for Canvassers.") Shoot this bird and you attack the emblem not only of America but of 4.74 percent interest.

The sportsman who grapples with all this confusion must wonder why the warnings about eagle extinction are so late in coming, while warnings on everything else have been so plentiful. He has been admonished for years to stop trespassing, stop shooting cows, stay within his deer and pheasant limits, observe firearms safety procedures, and wear brightly colored clothing. Especially to wear brightly colored clothing. The Safety Council and the various fish and game commissions have had so much trouble getting hunters to wear colorful garments that a bald eagle in the form of a large, brown bird could conceivably turn out to be another hunter.

Both are worth saving from extinction. As the commercial points out, our country is diminished when a species of wildlife dies out, particularly if the species is our national symbol.

If we can preserve the bald eagle despite our Treasury Department's deceptive portraiture, it will be an achievement for which future generations will be grateful -- one they will fondly recall each time they gather on Thanksgiving Day to count their blessings and to eat a large, brown bird.

(from Saturday Review, 1968)