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Washington's Eagle
Washington's Eagle.jpg
Artwork by John James Aubudon
Great-lakes.jpg
Background
Type Bird
First Sighting 1814
Last Sighting Unknown (1810's+)
Country North America
Habitat Great Lakes
Possible Population Very Small/Extinct

The Washington's Eagle, Bird of Washington or Great Sea Eagle (Falco washingtonii) is a mysterious species of eagle sighted by ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Aubudon. It is featured in his famous book The Birds of America first published between 1827 and 1838.

Description

The Washington's Eagle is described of being 4ft, 7inches tall and having a wingspan of 10ft, 2inches, making it possibly being the largest eagle in North America. It has all brown feathers and resembles a juvenile bald eagle. Despite this, Aubudon believed it did not resemble any known species of eagle.

Sightings

Ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Aubudon claimed to have seen the bird four times. He first sighted the bird in 1814, flying along the bluffs of the upper Mississippi river, near the Great Lakes. He was travelling with a Canadian fur trader at the time who informed him they were extremely rare. The fur trader told him that they were occasionally known to scavenge what was left behind by hunters and also diving for fish in the Great Lakes. Hearing this and realising it did not match the behaviour of known eagles, Aubudon believed the bird to be a new undiscovered species.

On one occasion when Aubudon spotted the bird again, he shot it and took it away for study. Now having a specimen, he measured it and noted it was larger than any known species of eagle. He gave the bird the scientific name Falco washingtonii in honor of America's first president George Washington. Aubudon gave this statement upon naming the bird: "I trust I shall be allowed to honour it with the name of one yet nobler, who was the savior of his country, and whose name will ever be dear to it.… as the new world gave me birth and liberty, the great man who ensured its independence is next to my heart .… He was brave, so is the Eagle; like it, too, he was the terror of his foes; and his fame, extending from pole to pole, resembles the majestic soarings of the mightiest of the feathered tribe. If America has reason to be proud of her Washington, so has she to be proud of her great Eagle."

Aubudon painted the Falco washingtonii and is 1 out 435 birds featured in his book The Birds of America. The original oil on canvas painting is on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Explanation

The Washington's Eagle was first accepted as an legitimate new species but is now not recognized as a valid species, due to a lack of sightings and specimens. If the bird was a genuine species, it had become extinct after Aubudon's sightings.

It is theorized the Washington's Eagle was an misidentified specimen of a juvenile bald eagle. Aubudon was accused of taking "sloppy measurements" of the specimen and "overstating the physical differences between other species". It's also theorized that Aubudon made the bird up as a publicity stunt to further sell his book.

Sources



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