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Health, Science & Environment

Golden eagle may soon become Utah’s state bird of prey

Golden eagle in flight
Tom Koerner
/
USFWS
The golden eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in North America. It may soon become a state symbol.

Utah’s state bird is the California Seagull because of its historic significance for early pioneer settlers. Now, lawmakers may add a bird of prey to the list of state symbols.

The bill in the legislature, S.B. 116, would make the golden eagle Utah’s state bird of prey. Other states, including Idaho, have added similar designations.

Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is the bill’s sponsor. He said the golden eagle is a bird all Utahns can resonate with.

“We are intimately connected with the seagull and I think that's great and it is part of our heritage, but it's not part of all of our heritage,” he said at a Senate Natural Resources Committee meeting Tuesday.

McKell pointed out gulls are an important symbol for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1848, one year after pioneers first entered the region, swarms of insects descended on the crops. The story goes that the crops — and people — were saved by flocks of gulls that ate the insects and helped spare the crops. Known as the “Miracle of the Gulls,” the bird is a prominent feature in the state.

McKell said his bill wouldn’t replace the gull. He wants to include the golden eagle as a symbol because it’s respected by hunters, conservationists and Native Americans.

The golden eagle is one of many raptors found in Utah. It’s at the top of the food chain, or an apex predator, according to Jeremy Hanks, with Hawk Watch International.

“You can see them everywhere,” he said. “You can see them on a fence post, you can see them on power lines, you can see them soaring. And so it's something that is pretty powerful.”

The Senate committee unanimously approved the bill, next it’s on to the full chamber.

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