What is a “seahawk” anyway?

A sports team of ambiguous nomenclature and symbolism takes the field today. The seahawk logo matches the appearance of no Seattle bird that I know of. The logo design itself appears not to be a hawk, but an eagle, a design taken from the Kwakwaka’wakw transformation mask of the Coastal Indians. Even though the NFL knows all about property rights and branding, no Indian got any royalties, to my knowledge.

The captive bird that flies out before games is an Augur hawk from Africa, a distant relative of the red-tailed hawk, in the Buteo genus. It is not a seabird, but feeds in mountains and grasslands. Thanks to the Smithsonian Magazine for that interesting tidbit. This captive needed some serious training to prepare it to face the whooping Seattle fans.

“Seahawk” might refer to either an osprey (not a hawk, but a bird in its own family, a relative of hawks and eagles) or a skua (a fierce cousins of gulls). The osprey has a bold eyestripe, not a two-tone head, so the color match with the sports team logo is imperfect, as is the size of the beak. Ospreys feed by swooping down on fish with great skill and elegance. Skuas, our other contender for “seahawk,” look nothing like the logo. They feed by robbing other birds, eating the afterbirth of marine mammals, preying on the eggs and young of other seabirds, scavenging dead meat, and generally scraping the barrel of respectable behavior. We’ll see how the game goes, then decide which bird is the better fit.

11 thoughts on “What is a “seahawk” anyway?

  1. Rosie Redfield

    In crossword puzzles a ‘sea eagle’ is always an ‘erne’. Wikipdiia says an erne is a “Sea eagle, any bird of prey in the genus Haliaeetus, especially the white-tailed eagle H. albicilla”.

  2. Joe WIllis

    Ironically, it seems to me, it is difficult these days to know what a patriot looks like, or what IS a true patriot. I grew up in southeastern Mass., and I still don’t know.

  3. Anonymous

    I had always assumed it to be a cartoonish rendering of the Steller’s Sea-eagle. It is not likely to be on
    any Washington state bird list. I friend of mine who does lots of crossword puzzles was baffled that a bird guy like me did not know what an erne was.

  4. Janet Beasley

    If I understand this correctly, a wild bird was trained to be released before a crowd of screaming humans for the benefit of a football team. That is inhumane. I am delighted that the team lost!! There is no need for such “entertainment.”

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      People do some questionable things to other creatures. Only someone in relationship with the hawk would have an inkling about whether it enjoyed the thrill or was yearning for home. It does seem incongruous, though, to say the least.


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