“As an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone led him….” (Deuteronomy 32:11-12a)
The first time I ever saw a bald eagle in the wild, its effect was mesmerizing.
My husband and I wound up years ago with an unexpected January day off, and on impulse, we hopped into our car and drove off in search of eagles at west Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake.
The lake is swampy, just off the Mississippi River—a scenic jewel, surrounded by cypress trees with their gnarly “knees.” It’s especially popular as a wintering spot for eagles. The shallow waters there offer good fishing for airborne predators.
Camera and binoculars in hand, we circled the lake by car and on foot, catching glimpses of the large birds from a great distance. None were near enough to adequately view, though.
Disappointed, we started back as early sunset approached. Just as we were about to leave the lake area, a motorist beside the road caught our attention…with his camera turned up toward a tree.
We pulled over and saw an eagle from less than 20 feet away…probably the most majestic animal I’ve ever encountered.
It watched us as intently as we watched it, its head cocked to one side in disapproval. My husband and I couldn’t move, captivated by this eagle’s royal presence.
I must have been too stunned to take a photo because I don’t have a print anywhere in my files. But its image is forever seared in my memory. When you see one this close, wild and free, you can appreciate why it was chosen as the national symbol for the United States of America.
The bald eagle is a BIG bird…not one you’d want to rile. With a wingspan seven feet wide and weight up to 15 pounds, the eagle can soar as high as 10,000 feet on thermal winds and reach a diving speed of 100 miles per hour. Its talons and beak are powerful, quick to shred whatever it catches.
Eagle couples mate for life, building nests—aeries—about five feet wide in tall trees or on posts. They dine on fish, ducks, snakes, turtles, and small forest animals. Eaglets hatch with a gray down that changes into brown feathers, receiving their distinctive white head coverings by the time they’re four or five years old. American bald eagles were threatened in the 1950s by pesticides, but their population has returned to a healthy status due to conservation efforts.
Eagles appear in the Bible more than 30 times, usually as examples of security, power, and ferocity. They shine in Ezekiel’s vision and the apostle John’s view of heaven in Revelation.
Most striking, though, is their use as a metaphor for God Himself. While it’s debatable about whether or not the bald eagle actually carries fledgling birds on its back, the truth that God will cover us with His “wings” of care and mercy is found throughout Scripture.
Our Lord promises us in Isaiah 40 that those who wait for Him will “renew their strength” and “mount up with wings like eagles.” He alone gives power to the weak, “and to those who have no might He increases strength.”
The sight of an eagle soaring overhead reminds us that God is sovereign over His creation…that He is our guardian King, watching and guiding us, rescuing us by His power when we fall. When we rise to fly, it is not by our own strength. God lifts us up by the breath of His Holy Spirit—we soar only on the wind of His grace.
Whether you watch eagles on your video screen or have the extraordinary privilege of seeing one in the wild,* I hope they will call you to reflect on God’s great love for you. May you be lifted up this week to soar in the inexpressible joy of the freedom He brings!
Lord Jesus, we ask You to fill us with Your power and energy. Let us find refuge beneath Your wings, secure in Your love and forgiveness. Help us to bring others with us into the heights and joy of living in Your presence. In Your majestic name, Amen.
*You can sign up on Facebook to watch videos, see photos, and follow live videocam footage when bald eagles are in residence at two sites in our area, monitored by East Tennessee State University: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1137594716258493 Through online contests, the couples have been named “Eugene and Frances,” along with “Boone and Jolene”—the last one inspired by Dolly Parton’s famous song title. For close-up views, visit the bald eagle sanctuary for non-releasable eagles, hosted at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, under the care of the American Eagle Foundation.
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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.