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like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. ~Deuteronomy 32:11, NIV~

The "eagle" mentioned here is described as stirring up the nest, supposedly to teach the young eagles to fly. However, I'm having difficulty finding a documentary of an eagle species that behaves this way. According to some quick search on eagle documentary (see this interesting documentary about white-tailed eagles), the young eagles don't learn to fly by getting pushed (as described in this motivational video), but they learned flying by practicing their wings on good winds, so I started to find more resources to find out the species of the eagle depicted here.

Some commentaries (see MacLaren's Exposition in this website, read the part starting with the headings "I. Here is a great thought about God") suggest that it might be "the carnivorous vulture". However I was having a difficulty finding documentaries about the fledgling process of vultures (consider this and this).

After reading more about this passage, I found someone had posted a devotional specific for this passage on aptly-named website eagleflight.org. It connects the reference to "eagle" here to the one mentioned in Job 39:27-28:

27] "Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high? 28] He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold. 29] From there he seeks out his food; his eyes detect it from afar. (It’s in the nest.) 30] His young ones feast on blood...

It also describes the process mentioned in Deut 32:11 in more depth, supposedly from the author's experience in bird-watching:

All at once she pushes the little one out of the nest, and the eaglet falls down the face of the cliff, surely to be destroyed. But not so! In a flash the great mother eagle flies down, catches the little one on her back, and flies up and deposits it in the nest. ("Whew! Mom, that must have been an accident.") But it wasn’t an accident. The mother bird pushes the little one out again, and again, over and over.

From there I started looking on eagles which build their nest in the rocks (the white-tailed eagle that I found at the top of this page don't build their nests in the rocks) and found this Wikipedia page on Golden Eagle. There is even a reference to this verse over there (see this line).

However, the part of that Wikipedia that describes the fledgling doesn't say the parent eagles stir the nests to teach the young eagles to fly. That section does mention the first flight being abrupt, though:

The first attempted flight departure can be abrupt, with the young jumping off and using a series of short, stiff wing-beats to glide downward or being blown out of nest while wing-flapping. The initial flight often includes a short flight on unsteady wings followed by an uncontrolled landing.

My question is, then: is the golden eagle really the species being depicted in this passage? If not, then which one?

And I am also interested in seeing a documentary, if available, of the fledgling process of the eagles. Not necessarily a video, although that would be best, but I'm looking for a more scientific (that is, empirical) source of the behaviour of the eagles. I think this aspect would already be part of any work of an answer, but just to make sure that it's there. =)


Note: I do really want to know the species depicted as I'm planning to draw an illustration of this passage, and I want to draw the correct bird =)

  • @justhalf information on eagle behavior apart from the text would likely need to be gained elsewhere. Check out Why can't I ask my 'big question'? – Dan Jan 2 '15 at 5:39
  • @Dan, I guess I'll be happy with an answer that try to answer whether the eagle mentioned here is Golden Eagle in non-specific way. But I got your point, it might actually require me to ask the question in other SE. I was hoping that someone already did that as Bible scholar and that I can get reference from here. I still think that this question fits here, don't you think? – justhalf Jan 2 '15 at 7:34
  • To the extent that it's about species-identification and ornithology, you may be able to ask it on biology.SE. Although I said that the theological implications aren't required as part of the question, we do focus on what the author meant to convey by the text, which is here obviously a simile. You may be able to edit this to focus on textual and translational issues and ask the ornithology question at bio. – Susan Jan 2 '15 at 8:26
  • @Susan, I see. In that case, can I edit this question to have completely different focus, such as whether the reference of "eagle" should really be translated as "eagle", and whether it's the same reference to the one in Job? – justhalf Jan 2 '15 at 10:54
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Susan Jan 3 '15 at 11:01
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It is interesting to note that so many people want to "read" into a non-scientific ancient document, such as the Old Testament, to show how scientific accurate it is. It recorded uneducated people's observation of the world around them. As such, eagles were metaphorically given a powerful persona for illustration purposes. In Exodus 19:4, the same visual metaphor is given for a powerful bird of prey to protect its young. The specifics of how and when are not given nor expected. If you want to draw an illustration, a powerful eagle hovering a nest with baby eagles will do just fine. There are so many preachers who in an effort to emphasize their points, would fabricate all kinds of stories. I remember hearing about how eagles will pick or claw their own feathers in order to grow bigger! I had to wonder where they get their "illustrations" from! My advice would be to not read into too much of what is meant to be a simple metaphor.

  • This was certainly the advice that I got, too. With my lack of knowledge on actual bird behavior at the time of my question, this certainly looked like a plausible behavior for birds. Based on that, even though this is a metaphor, certainly knowing the right kind of bird would be helpful, if not simply due diligence. But now knowing that we do not know any bird with this behavior, then we can draw any bird with ease of mind. And certainly I agree with you that we should not exaggerate or even fabricate information just to make our point. – justhalf Apr 9 '18 at 19:09
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    This is why hermeneutics and "rightly dividing the Word of Truth" are so important. This discipline is not en end in itself, but it helps avoid serious error, false teachings, and delusions. Furthermore, science is always changing--what's uncontested fact in one generation will be considered archaic and even quaint in the next generation. An "educated" person in phrenology, phlogiston, or phen-fen has nothing to brag about. Whenever, you hear that "the science is settled," it's like your preacher expounding about the eagle. Something to think about. – Dieter Apr 11 '18 at 1:04
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I think that either the translation you are using, or your interpretation of what the text says, is flawed. The 13th century Jewish commentator, Rashi, says of this verse that the eagle's behavior here is that he does not surprise his fledglings by suddenly swooping into the nest, but awakens them to his presence by hovering over the nest before setting down. Moreover, the eagle does not expose its fledglings when it must move them, but rather moves them into a position that should an arrow be aimed at it, the adult eagle would take the arrow, and it not its children. Since the latter description seems impossible to me, I suspect that there is a metaphor here that does not strictly conform with observation in the animal world. However, my nephew is an expert on birds of prey, and I will ask him, and amend this answer if I'm wrong.

  • Hmm, which part of my question do you refer to when you say "the eagle's behavior here is that he does not surprise his fledglings by suddenly swooping into the nest"? – justhalf Jan 2 '15 at 13:56
  • @justhalf I don't think that the eagle is teaching the little ones how to fly -- at least not in that verse. – Bruce James Jan 2 '15 at 19:32
  • I see. Then this can be a great discussion on-topic for this site, because the common interpretation of this (as I know it) is that here the parent eagle is described as teaching the young eagles to fly, and protecting them in doing so. Because, why else should the parent "spreads its wings to catch them" if the younglings were not made to fall intentionally? And I see the "hovers over its young" part as being the part after the younglings fall and the parent watches over them. – justhalf Jan 3 '15 at 1:30
  • @justhalf If you would have 'entered the link' I provided, you would have heard how the male eagle will 'catch' the young eaglets as they learn to fly-just before they hit the ground. This is also part of the mating ritual; the female will drop various sized branches, until she drops a log, which the male eagle will catch before it hits bottom. 1 miss and it's over(for the male). This insures the female eagle who 'nudges' the young eaglets out of the nest will be caught by the male, who is 'soaring' around, waiting for the young eaglets 1st attempt at flight. – Tau Jan 3 '15 at 7:33
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    @Inkbug: That's a nice catch (no pun intended). Looking at the verse again, it seems that the verse is indeed more suited towards picking the eaglets rather than catching them (after falling). Also it suits the allegory better ("He will not let you stumble"). – justhalf Sep 1 '15 at 5:38

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