What Are the National Animals of the United States?

You probably already knew about the bald eagle.
The national animals of the U.S.
The national animals of the U.S. / Adam Jones/DigitalVision/Getty Images (bald eagle); RichLegg/E+/Getty Images (bison); Kypros/Moment/Getty Images (American flag)

Quite a few distinct images may come to mind when you think of the United States. Perhaps your brain goes to the flag and its many stars and stripes, or instead, the giant Lady Liberty

The U.S. has a couple living symbols as well. These furry and feathered creatures have been residing on the continent since long before the U.S. became a country, and they’ve certainly earned their titles.

The Bison, the National Mammal of the United States

Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park.
Bison grazing in Yellowstone National Park. / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Bison—which are commonly and incorrectly called buffalo—officially became one of the country’s symbols fairly recently: they were named the national mammal on May 9, 2016. The extraordinary creatures are the largest mammal in North America. They’re also quite speedy, and can run up to 35 mph.

They’re a storied part of the American West, and feature in much of the region’s iconography. Indigenous people hunted them for food long before Western settlers arrived. Yellowstone National Park has some particularly noteworthy bison—though the animals have roamed large parts of the continent over the years, the park is the only place where bison have continually lived since prehistoric times. Bison populations did severely decline due to market hunting and extermination campaigns [PDF], but thanks to diligent conservation efforts, the species has been rebounding since the early 20th century.

The Bald Eagle, the National Bird of the United States 

While bison only recently made their claim to national animal status, the bald eagle has been a symbol of the country from its infancy. When tasked with developing the Great Seal of the United States in 1782, then-secretary of Congress Charles Thomson decided that the look of the bald eagle was well-suited to be the centerpiece of the design.

photo of a bald eagle flying against blue sky
The national bird in action. / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Benjamin Franklin had some strong thoughts about having the bald eagle represent the United States. In a letter to his daughter, he described the bird as “lazy” and of “bad moral character.” “I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird,” he wrote

Though their populations drastically declined by the mid-20th century due to habitat loss, hunting, and insecticides like DDT, the birds have since made a remarkable comeback [PDF].

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