In last week's "Table Talk" ("Hum Plate Roundup," April 30), Jennifer Fumiko Cahill made reference to "the majestic screams of bald eagles." Clearly Jennifer, like uncounted other moviegoers, has been duped by Hollywood. The bald eagle's true vocal repertoire has been described in field guides as, "rather weak, flat, chirping whistles" (Sibley) and "high-pitched twitterings" (National Geographic). Go online and listen for yourself. Clearly not the impressive, "put-the-fear-of-God-in-you" sound that the bird's status as our national emblem demands, prompting film producers to dub in the "harsh, descending keeeer" (National Geographic) of the red-tailed hawk whenever a bald eagle appears onscreen. Much more evocative, albeit completely inaccurate.
The bald eagle's voice is not its only sub-majestic quality. The species is an opportunistic scavenger of dead animals and habitually pilfers food from other birds, a behavior known as kleptoparasitism (one of my favorite words). Of course, these traits are unsavory only in the human value system — right and wrong don't exist in nature — but they certainly don't substantiate the image for which the founding fathers were striving.
Benjamin Franklin, cognizant of the eagle's character, proposed that the "noble" wild turkey be chosen instead to represent the new republic. One could make the argument that the eagle is actually a more apropos emblem for the nation we've become since then, but I won't go there. After all, Jennifer was only talking about sandwiches — and we still make the best goddamn sandwiches on the planet!
Ken Burton, Eureka