Ah, the bald eagle; United States’ national emblem since 1782. This national symbol of hope and freedom was placed on the endangered species list in 1978. Through the banning of the pesticide, DDT and with nicer treatment by humans, these birds managed to fly their way off of this list in 2007. They are still protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. They have been since 1940 and I imagine they always will be. This Act basically protects these birds from any human who has it in their mind to catch, take, injure or kill any bald or golden eagle. Their nests, eggs and of course their babies are all included in this protection. Violations are dealt with in criminal penalties and can result in a $100,000 fine, one year of imprisonment or both.
As I was watching this guy walk around in his majestic boss-like way, the first thing that popped into my head was, “he looks very much like a dinosaur.” The way his head moves as he’s stalking around. If he had two tiny little front arms he could be a velociraptor with wings. That’s a terrifying thought. So, I decided to do some research to find out if there was an ancient connection between the two.
Since birds of prey are also known as raptors, I thought there might be something there. It turns out that my first thought and theory was somewhat accurate. If you trace the evolutionary chain of birds, evolutionary biologists believe that it leads back to reptiles. It’s believed that feathers evolved from the scales of reptiles, long ago. Fossils have been collected of birds that date back to the Mesozoic Era. Birds actually did evolve from dinosaurs! They were carnivorous creatures called maniraptoran theropods. This is the same family as the velociraptor. It has been shown that the bone shape of the velociraptor is distinctly similar to the shape of the bones of birds. The way they layed their eggs and the shape of them are also indicators that the two are distantly related.
Sounds a little bit like a crazy movie plot to me. Lizards sprouting wings and turning into carnivorous flying creatures that we now know as birds. There is even proof that the earliest birds had teeth. I don’t know about you, but I think that beaks are dangerous enough without teeth.
So now, when you look up into the sky and see an eagle gliding overhead, remember that once long ago they had tails, scales and teeth. I think I like what they have become a little better than what they once were.