Friday, May 14, 2021

Eagle Symbolism

 Eagles are highly popular and inspirational. Historically, these animals have been highlighted in art and sculpture by cultures and nations for centuries. Characteristics of eagles are well known—powerful, intelligent, and superior. In 1782 one famous eagle species, the bald eagle, was selected as the national symbol of the United States. In the same year the bird appeared on the Great Seal of the United States and has been portrayed frequently on US coins and currency.  

The Bible contains at least 28 references to eagles. One of the most famous is found in Isaiah 40:31: “…..but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Several chapters later, the prophet Isaiah quotes God who says through the writings of the prophet, “…..I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:10 NIV). Eagles call to mind divine characteristics, but the Creator is superior to the apexes of His creation works, including majestic eagles!

Many eagle species inhabited Bible lands. It is uncertain which species of eagle was referenced in Scripture. It is more certain that all eagle species share similar traits setting them apart from other avian species. There are 60 species of eagles in the world, most of them inhabiting Eurasia and Africa. Outside those areas, there are only 14 eagle species in other regions of the world. Of the 60 eagle species there are several well-known groups including the sea eagles, also called fish eagles. Bald eagles belong to this group because their diet consists of 70-90% fish, although they are opportunistic and consume other foods as well. These eagles live near rivers, lakes and tidewaters where their main food, fish, is accessible. Since bald eagles are indigenous only to North America, residents of the U. S. no doubt think of the this species first when they think of eagles. The only other eagle species commonly found in the U. S. is the golden eagle which consumes mainly small mammals. It is distributed more widely around the world but bald eagles are solely a North American bird.

Bald eagles manifest a diverse and fascinating suite of characteristics. They are most admired for their intelligence, strength and manifold skills in hunting, flying, and nest building to mention only a few. Each living creature is endowed with a set of abilities setting them apart from other creatures. It is incumbent upon humanity to respect the ecological roles assigned to each species. Most U. S. residents are aware that the bald eagle population diminished substantially during the 20th century. Bald eagles were ravaged by several factors including habitat loss, indirect poisoning by lead shot left in the environment by hunters, and indirect poisoning by the insecticide DDT remaining in the environment, later working into the diet of eagles via consumption of fish. Eagles ingested DDT chemical residues in their food, causing thinning and breakage of their eggshells during incubation. Strict regulation of the insecticide has solved the problem since 1972. Rebecca Heisman, writing in an American Bird Conservancy Publication states, “In the United States, there may be no greater avian icon — or impressive wildlife story — than the Bald Eagle.” In 1963 there were only 417 nesting pairs. Today the number has increased to 70,000, a scientific success story!

Several personal experiences with eagles come to mind. I did not observe a bald eagle until approximately 1995. These animals were still on the endangered list, not to be officially removed from the list until 2007. My wife and I moved to Dubuque, IA in 2000. Friends notified us of a startling phenomenon in progress at Lock and Dam #11 on the Mississippi River, only about two miles from our residence. Dozens of bald eagles were catching and feeding on fish in the ice free water at the base of the dam in late December. The weather was brutally cold but we managed to produce video pictures of the skilled birds fishing and flying to trees on the shoreline with prey in their claws. In Alaska in 2007 we observed many eagles in trees on a shoreline. Their dark bodies topped with white heads presented a startling spectacle. In Alaska bald eagles were never endangered. Bald eagles develop mature adult white heads after several years. Due to our proximity to the Mississippi River, the birds fly over our extreme northwestern Illinois neighborhood skies with reasonable frequency.

A restaurant on the Iowa River in Iowa City, IA enables views of bald eagles cruising over and fishing on the river. This occurs in mid-city. One more example of bald eagles’ people-friendliness has occurred at the home of our son just a few miles from Iowa City. A mere two blocks from their home a bald eagle pair resides with their large nest constructed of sticks in a tall pine tree. My grandchildren are excited by these avian residents who decided to share a human neighborhood location for raising their family. Several times we have observed these birds incubating eggs on their nest through scopes and field glasses. All neighborhood residents seem intent on leaving the eagle family undisturbed. The natural phenomenon is exciting and instructive for the residents.

“Spaceship Earth” teems with life. Each species of life is functionally adapted to its environment. Bioscientists have reported accurate, detailed physical descriptions of each animal, their body systems, and their unique abilities. The more we study, the more we discover the beauty of all life forms along with fascination for their capabilities. We exult in the creative skill of the God of Creation.