‘In addition to the seagull’: Utah Bill to designate golden eagle as state bird of prey passes Senate

Southwest Wildlife founder and director Martin Tyner talks to a crowd of about 100 people who came out Friday morning to watch the release of a golden eagle back into the wild, Brian Head Peak, Utah, July 21, 2017 | Photo by Tracie Sullivan, St. George News / Cedar City News

ST. GEORGE — A proposed bill passing through the Utah Legislature would officially name the golden eagle as the designated state bird of prey. Of course, as described in the bill’s language, Utah already has a state bird: the seagull.

Falconer Martin Tyner holds golden eagle Scout at Findlay Subaru, St. George, Utah, April 23, 2021 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

That designation was made in honor of the famous story in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ early history when, in 1848, swarms of seagulls descended to eat the insects that were plaguing the pioneers’ harvest. 

“Members of the community reached out to me,” Sen. Michael McKell, of Spanish Fork, told St. George News. “The seagull is pretty awesome, and that pioneer story is incredibly important.

“But the thought was, couldn’t we come up with something in addition to the seagull that is reflective of the entire state,” McKell added.

McKell said that the values all Utahns embrace are symbolized by the golden eagle: honesty, truth, majesty, courage, strength, wisdom, power and freedom.

“And in the Native American tradition, the golden eagle is seen as a messenger of the gods,” McKell said. “The symbol of the golden eagle matters and is important.”

Utah state Sen. Michael McKell of District 7, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

McKell sponsored the State Bird of Prey Designation bill, designated SB 116 in the 2022 Legislature, and it was passed by the Senate with only one nay vote and sent to the House on Thursday.

Rep. Marsha Judkins, of Provo, Floor Sponsor of the bill said in an email to St. George News that she was asked by an enthusiastic friend and member of Hawkwatch if she would be the House Sponsor.

“I thought it sounded like a fun bill. I also think the golden eagle is an extremely cool raptor,” she added.

Financially speaking, the bill is an easy one for lawmakers to get behind, especially since it has no cost.

“The fiscal note is $0,” Judkins wrote.

With the abundance of official state symbols (including the dutch oven, Utah’s official state cooking pot), residents might wonder if another one is needed, especially when there already is a state bird, animal (elk), dinosaur (Utahraptor), fish (Bonneville cutthroat trout) and flower (sego lily).

“Need is not the appropriate word,” Martin Tyner said. “Do we need a state tree, or flower? We don’t need another symbol. But is it a good thing? Absolutely.”

As a wildlife educator, scientist and bird rescuer for over the last 40 years, Tyner has seen the golden eagle flourish in Utah.

“When I first moved here 43 years ago, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources started bringing animals to me, and I noticed the sheer number of golden eagles that were shot,” Tyner said.

“Eagles were considered detrimental to livestock, and there were some old wives tales and misunderstandings about what the eagle is and its purpose in the environment,” he added.

Through outreach efforts and his work at the Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Enoch, Tyner helped spread the good word about the Utah golden eagle.

“Real progress has been made in education. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and educators brought the awareness of how truly important these animals are,” Tyner said. “The people of Utah are ready for a state bird of prey, and the golden eagle would be a wonderful choice.”

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2022 Utah Legislature here.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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