‘Eagle When She Flies’: How Dolly Parton Helped Save Eagles From Extinction

Dolly Parton has always been drawn to eagles. The bird of prey has popped up in a number of her songs through the years, but perhaps most notably in “Eagle When She Flies.” Here’s why Parton loves eagles, and how she helped to keep them from going extinct.

Dolly Parton stands next to a Bald Eagle named "America" being held by Al Cecere during an event at the National Zoo July 2, 2003 in Washington, DC.
Dolly Parton, Al Cecere, and Bald Eagle named “America” | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Dolly Parton relates to eagles

If Dolly Parton was an insect, she’d be a butterfly. If she was an animal, she’d be an eagle.

“I related to eagles, somehow,” she wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “Eagles are the strong ones, flying the hardest, the fastest, the highest. I didn’t realize how much I write about eagles until somebody brought it to my attention. I must just relate to the idea of soaring.”

A common theme can be found in many of Parton’s songs: “things with wings.”

“If I ain’t writing about angels, I’m writing about eagles or butterflies,” she wrote. “I just love things that can move and get on out of here.”

Dolly Parton’s eagle sanctuary at Dollywood

Parton loves eagles so much that she got involved in the conservation of the species.

“We have an eagle sanctuary at Dollywood, where we take injured eagles, nurture them, and release them back into the wild,” she wrote. “Back when we started it, bald eagles were beginning to be extinct. We’ve helped to get it back to where they aren’t so scarce anymore.”

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You can visit the sanctuary at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

“Get a rare glimpse of some of nature’s most impressive birds of prey in this beautiful mountain setting as members of the American Eagle Foundation interact with these spectacular animals,” reads the theme park website. “Birds of Prey at Dollywood are under the care of the American Eagle Foundation which is authorized to possess birds for education, exhibition, rehabilitation and breeding under permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.”

‘Eagle When She Flies’

Parton originally wrote “Eagle When She Flies” to be the theme song for Steel Magnolias — “That’s why I used the lines ‘Gentle as the sweet magnolia, strong as steel, her faith and pride.'” But, in the end, the film team decided against using a theme song at all.

“I still think ‘Eagle When She Flies’ is one of my best songs,” she wrote. “I think it covers all kinds of women, ‘a kaleidoscope of colors.'”

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Even though the song didn’t end up getting used for the movie, Parton had a great time on set. She became close with all of her co-stars.

“When we [Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Parton] got together to film Steel Magnolias, we all knew who we were,” she wrote. “We all had names and were important in our own ways. We all knew what our roles were. We never argued about anything. We just enjoyed being together and learning about each other. We enjoyed the things we could find out about each other’s lives. When I worked with those women, they were like my sisters or my aunts or my cousins. I take to everybody as if they are family.”