The NYSM's Bald Eagle
Happy Fourth of July from the NYSM! This bald eagle, currently on display in Birds of New York Hall, is one of the oldest specimens from our collections and even pre-dates the discovery of the Cohoes Mastodon by sixteen years! The specimen, an adult male, was part of the personal collection of H. Casimir De Rham Jr. and was donated to the State Cabinet of Natural History (the precursor to the NYSM) in 1850. For many years, it sat on exhibit on the 5th floor of the “Old Museum” housed in the State Education Building from 1912-1976.
The bald eagle’s role as our national symbol began on June 20, 1782, when Congress adopted its use on the Great Seal of the United States. The Seal, originally designed by Pennsylvania lawyer William Barton and improved upon by Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson, features a bald eagle clasping olive branches and arrows in its talons and a banner with the motto "E Pluribus Unum" in its beak. Eventually, Congress tasked Tiffany & Co. with creating an improved Seal. The resulting design, created in 1885 by chief designer James Horton Whitehouse, remains relatively unchanged to this day.
In spite of its national significance, the Bald Eagle faced near-extinction due to habitat destruction, hunting, and exposure to the chemical pesticide DDT. By the 1960s, there were only about 400 breeding pairs left and in 1978, they were placed on the endangered species list. While the recovery of the Bald Eagle following the DDT ban and the passage of the Endangered Species Act is well documented, the scale of the change in New York State is truly remarkable. In the period between the first and second New York Breeding Bird Atlases (1980-1985 and 2000-2005, respectively), the number of survey blocks in which the species was found increased by 1,174%! On June 28, 2007, bald eagles were officially removed from the endangered species list.
For more information about the NYSM's Birds of New York Hall, visit: https://www.nysm.nysed.gov/exhibitions/online/birds-of-new-york