Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, June 12, 2008

WHAT DO FISH EAGLES EAT, ANWAY?

video My recent post about sea eagles started a couple of conversations about the dietary preferences of those birds and their possible use in falconry. Steve Bodio, proprietor at Querencia and an experienced falconer with an unhealthy fascination with flying eagles at game, suggested that a Steller's Sea Eagle might be flown at Canada Geese (a friend of his once flew a Bald Eagle at jackrabbits with regular success). The thought was interesting to me, even though my limited experience with sea eagles has left a distinct impression of languor. For many years, a population of Bald Eagles has wintered in the desert of western Utah, feeding largely on jackrabbits, and according to the literature, Balds capture ducks quite frequently, especially in the southeastern U.S. In the late 19th century, the great ornithologist William Brewster described Bald Eagles in Virginia capturing geese in flight. Surprising as this may sound, it's hard judge the speed of an eagle. They appear slow because they move fewer body lengths per second than a smaller bird, but watching a pair of Goldens stoop at your Peregrine makes any unmerited disrespect suddenly dissolve. This said, it's still hard for me to shake my old attitudes toward the genus Haliaeëtus.
Last week a friend emailed me a series of seven photographs taken by Tom Carver from British Columbia showing an Adult Bald Eagle striking a full-grown Trumpeter Swan. I strung them together into the video clip above to facilitate comparison. It's hard to tell for sure whether it's a case of attempted predation or mere bullying, but I'm inclined to interpret it as the former. The first photo is clearly unrelated to the rest, and serves only as an introduction. The second shot shows the eagle hitting the swan's rump, possibly without much height advantage. The original narration said the swan then dropped straight into the water below, but the photos show the eagle quickly gaining altitude, presumably to continue the chase. According to the narration, the swan landed on the water and the pursuit ended, which makes me suspect the eagle wasn't terribly serious.

I'm pleased to have seen these photos and had my prejudices shaken a bit. Clearly, sea eagles are capable of a range of behaviors, and can wax raptorial with the best of them when it strikes their fancy. Still, I keep coming back to visions of the only sort of Bald Eagle predation I've witnessed, typified by this photo I took earlier this year, of Bald Eagles feasting on cow placenta.
____________________
UPPER: Photographs by Tom Carver of Terrace, BC; Thanks to Anne Schneidervin
LOWER: Photo by CPBvK

11 Comments:

Anonymous Mick said...

fantastic photos. Thanks for posting them.

4:37 AM  
OpenID Kiggavik said...

While goose hunting in Saskatchewan I often saw Bald Eagles trying for Snow Geese and saw one bring down a goose on at least one occasion.

7:40 AM  
Blogger cpbvk said...

Mick: Oh no...thank you
Kiggavik: Thanks, Clare. it's good to hear from someone who's probably seen LOTS of Bald Eagles.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Steve Bodio said...

We get a lot of them wintering in the Bosque del Apache refuge and I have seen them both stooping at and feeding on snows, though not yet killing one.

The falconer who flew the (male) Bald was in Canada BTW, so legal.

Eagles I expect are opportunistic, though Goldens of course more agile.

9:00 AM  
Blogger Matt Mullenix said...

I once saw 3 balds chasing the same cattle egret over a spray field in north Florida. They were serious, taking turns and gaining on the smaller bird. It may have been a sporting proposition for them, much like orcas seem to play with seals, but like the seals, the egret probably died in earnest.

Another, more amazing, sight I will claim is the taking of a grown pelican on the wing by a bald eagle. Tom and Jenn Coulson and I were hawking along the Louisiana marsh coast when all the Harris' (we were flying about 7) looked up and began to scream. A bald eagle had bound to a pelican and was pinwheeling down into the marsh with it.

Several of our hawks (being Harris' and fearless and capable of some evil) left their perches and set out toward the marsh, we supposed, to steal the booty or maybe kill eagle and quarry both. Fortunately they were smart enough to let us call them off before they had crossed the levee and gone out over the marsh.

Strange, but true.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post! We have a lot of eagles around here. In fact, we have a pair with two youngins in a nest at the barn. Our horseback riding trails take us right under them and they watch us with mild amusement. The horses have gotten used to them.
We saw an eagle snatch a mallard right out of the water and carry it away last summer. It was fascinating and of course, I did not have a camera!!!!
Vikki

6:41 AM  
Blogger Ivan said...

Here in Singapore, a white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster; the Indo-Pacific representative of Haliaeetus) has been observed pursuing a grey heron (Ardea cinerea; the Old World equivalent of your great blue heron).

http://besgroup.talfrynature.com/2007/02/22/white-bellied-sea-eagle-and-the-grey-heron/

1:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fish eagles eat edible food, does that help any?

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