[Tweeters] Eagles Aerial Battle - Taking Prey and Fighting Over It

johntubbs at comcast.net johntubbs at comcast.net
Tue Mar 20 23:04:57 PDT 2018

Hi folks,

I live close to Luhr Beach in Thurston County. It is a state boat launch site, and also the site of the Nisqually Reach Nature Center. It is across McAlister Creek from the Nisqually Tidal Flats at Billy Franks Jr. Nisqually NWR. There are always birds to see (at least in the winter), and at low tide, the extensive tidal flats and shallow waters draw amazing collections of birds. This afternoon, I went there at a quite low tide to see what was about and also get some flight shots if possible.

There was quite a variety of ducks, gulls, herons, Greater Yellowlegs and as usual the top of the avian food chain - Bald Eagles. The director of the Nature Center there said their high count of eagles on the flats at one time is...56! There have been 3 eagles minimum close to the boat launch each time I've been there recently, and they were there today - one adult and two immatures. I first just watched for activity from the car. And then I saw what became a very amazing aerial drama that I was able to observe and photograph.

One of the immature eagles was in aerial pursuit of a gull. Although large and not as maneuverable as smaller raptors, it was impressive to see how close the eagle was coming to nailing the gull. Then the adult eagle joined in the pursuit in what appeared to be cooperative hunting, but - given the eagle's reputation for 'laziness' all the way back to Ben Franklin - was probably more like figuring maybe it would get the gull before the immature. So the predators and prey (and a second gull circling at a distance watching the proceedings) engaged in an impressive, swooping aerial battle. Meanwhile, I was snapping photos with the camera on continuous mode. I focused on the immature bird since it had started the process. I couldn't see the whole scene because I was looking through the viewfinder, and what I eventually saw through it was that the immature eagle had given up without capturing anything. So I thought the gull had escaped. But...as it turned out it (or its unfortunate companion) wasn't so lucky.

The way I found this out was that after lowering the camera, I saw that an adult eagle was sitting on a pole in the channel - there is almost always an adult Bald Eagle there when I visit the spot (presumably the same bird), alternating between there and the top of a huge fir on the nearby ridge. I snapped a couple shots of that bird, and through the viewfinder it was eating what I first thought was a fish. Then I caught a peripheral glimpse of another eagle - apparently the immature bird that had started this whole melee - on a beeline for the adult on the pole. Up came the camera and I started snapping away, resulting in some fascinating pictures, which can be found by clicking the link at the end of this note.

The adult eagle saw the immature coming in for an attack, and hunkered down in a defensive posture, its wing mantled over the prey item, which turned out to be a gull - not a fish - and I presume was the originally targeted gull that the adult had managed to capture while my viewfinder and my eye were on the immature. I thought this was a pretty brazen thing for a youngster to do to an adult, which could even possibly be its parent, as eagles nest and breed every year on the ridge across from Nisqually NWR. (If you're into anthropomorphizing, Ben Franklin was right about the eagle being of 'bad character, and lazy' when he objected to making the bird our national symbol. Why capture a prey item yourself when you can steal it from another bird? Of course, eagles are only one species that engages in kleptoparasitism.) The attacker either actually touched the adult, or came very close. It was too far away for me to tell through the viewfinder, but I didn't see any feathers fly. The adult was clearly taking the threat seriously, though. The attack failed to intimidate the adult into leaving its perch or dropping the prey and the young attacker didn't do a second run, instead flying off away from the scene. The adult then recomposed itself, talons still firmly holding onto its prize.

The link below takes you to the Raptors album on my Flickr account, and shows five pictures of the attack by the immature on the adult eagle. I also got numerous shots of the original aerial chase, but it was further away and the images on first glance weren't as impressive as the ones here. If I find some that are interesting as I continue to edit, I'll post them as well.

To see the photos, go to this link - https://www.flickr.com/photos/141150527@N08/albums/72157666935070548 .

John Tubbs
Lacey, WA
johntubbs AT comcast DOT net
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