What Is a Seahawk, Anyway?

The mascot behind one of the NFL's most popular teams isn't actually a real bird. So what is it?

Super Bowl Sunday is here. The Seattle Seahawks are great football players and all, but their team name got us wondering: What do we really know about the seahawk? Here are some fun facts—and fictions—about the most famous animal in professional sports.

What is a seahawk?

Actually, there is no such thing. No ornithologist would refer to them as such. (They don’t even spell it as one word.) Some people, though, consider “sea hawks” to be a nickname for ospreys or skuas.

Ospreys are found on every continent except Antarctica, while skuas are migratory birds found from the North Pole to the South Pole (Good luck trying to find one in North America, though. They rarely come ashore.) Skuas have a reputation for being relentless when it comes to scoring a meal, battling and even killing other birds over fish; role models for 300-pound men after a touchdown (minus the killing, of course.)

So, do the Seahawks use an Osprey or skua as their live mascot?

Neither. In fact, it is illegal to use native Ospreys for commercial purposes. Instead, the team rallies around a captive-bred 10-year-old Augur Hawk named Taima. Don’t bother looking for her wild cousins around Puget Sound; Augur Hawks are mainly found in the arid mountains of Africa.

Is the Seahawks’ logo actually an Osprey?

Once again, nope. Look close enough and you’ll see that the thickness of the bill is all wrong, not to mention the wild purples, blues, and greens bear no resemblance to the browns and blacks of Ospreys.

But scientific accuracy wasn’t really the point. In reality, the logo is nod to one of the Seattle region’s many Native communities—the Kwakwaka’wakw nation. The many brightly colored ceremonial masks of the Kwakwaka’wakw each had their own ritual or religious meaning. One in particular was the “transformation” mask; it’s painted like a “thunderbird,” a quasi-mythological version of an eagle. The team’s helmets reference the thunderbird mask, opening and closing like raptor beaks. (According to the Seahawks website, Taima means "thunder," though it's unclear in what language.)

How did they become the Seattle Seahawks?

After Seattle received an NFL franchise in 1974, the owners held a name-the-team contest that attracted over 20,000 submissions. Around 150 contestants suggested the Seahawks, the nickname of a few local high schools and colleges, and it was chosen one of five finalists along with the Mariners, Evergreens, Olympics and Sockeyes. The Seahawks then won out with the support of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Are they first professional team to use the nickname “Seahawks”?

No. The Post-Intelligencer reports that Seattle had a Seahawks hockey team from 1934 to 1940, and that Miami had a Seahawks football team in the 1940s.