For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eagle Antics

Today we had a full complement of weather, from sunshine to stormy winds to rain and hail and snow. Yesterday, although chilly, was much nicer, and I went down to Cattle Point to do some bird-watching. It was surprisingly quiet animal-wise, so I just enjoyed my walk without much to stop and look at. When I was almost back to my car, however, all of a sudden there were bald eagles everywhere: in flight, flying from perch to perch, yelling back and forth to each other, and engaging in some very cool aerial acrobatics, almost in synchrony:

What, I wondered, was the source of all this commotion?! Eagles are usually pretty sedate birds, spending less than 2% of their day in flight or feeding - the rest of the time they are either roosting or perched, which with their exceptional eyesight is often a passive method of foraging. When I first saw the pair in flight I thought courtship might be the reason. The lighting wasn't great, but as soon as they turned into the sunshine I realized it was an adult and immature flying together, so it wasn't courtship. (Juvenile bald eagles are all mottled brown and don't get that characteristic white head and tail until after they're four. This is also when they become sexually active.) How about territoriality? Bald eagles are very defensive of their nest sites and associated territory - but usually not as much against juveniles as against other adults. There were also at least 5 different eagles around, so it wasn't like there was one intruder invading the space of a nesting pair. Hmmm....what else could it be?

Soon enough, I received a clue that gave me an insight into the loud and active eagle proceedings. An eagle was flying towards me, looking at first like it was trailing a long string. As it got closer, and especially after looking at my photographs, it became more apparent what I was seeing:

What is that, a huge salmon fillet? Definitely food of some sort clutched tightly in its talons. Apparently all these eagles had found something to eat - and thus to fight over. Cool stuff.


Warren Baker said...

Cool stuff indeed. What a fabulous bird!

Rainsong said...

I have a similar photo... similar in content, not quality, of a mature eagle picking on a juvenile that my husband snapped at Keystone on Whidbey Island (Fort Casey Ferry area) I'm wondering if parents are chasing off their children to protect this years fledglings? Hope you post what you find out, it is high on my "humm" list.

Monika said...

Deborah - I asked a friend of mine who has done some fieldwork with eagles. He said that last year's fledglings often come back to the nest and parents tolerate them until there are eggs in the nest. Then, it is all about this year's effort and they will be quite brutal in chasing away yearlings. Hope that helps!