Tuesday, June 15, 2021 Bald Eagles hunting

Seward, Alaska

As it sometimes happens, I innocently stepped out of the car smack into a life-and-death drama, this time at Fourth of July Beach. Four BALD EAGLES swooped low over the water just off the beach, talons extended, then rose up, circled, and dove again. 


The two adults and two sub-adults expended an enormous amount of energy, stroking their massive wings constantly. They only rested briefly as they swept down, skimming low as their shadows raced over the tops of the waves beneath.


I could not tell what they were hunting: Herring or sand lance? Fish carcasses? Suddenly, with a splash, one Eagle managed to grab its target and snacked on it mid-air, reaching down to those deadly talons to rip off a bite. 

The other Eagles gave chase and three dashed away over the beach. They soon returned and continued the hunt, frequently squabbling over the airspace, screaming, talons-to-talons, hunting wing-to-wing.


After about 15 minutes of hunting with occasional success, the show petered out and the great birds dispersed to the forest for a rest, leaving me mystified. 


The only other people there were four visitors from Florida who watched in amazement nearby. They told me they had been hoping to see a Bald Eagle on their trip and just happened to be admiring the view when not one but four Eagles appeared. They wondered if this action was normal. I assured them that it was very unusual. I wished I had asked them how long they had been watching before I showed up, but I forgot.


I asked if they knew what the Eagles were hunting. They replied, “five ducklings!” I was astonished, but when I got home to check my photos, I clearly saw the tiny head of a duckling. The only duck I had seen was a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, first paddling offshore, then resting on shore afterwards, quite alone, and now, I realized, bereft. She had not put up a fuss, wisely realizing the Eagles might grab her too.


What a dangerous journey she had undertaken with her little family! Where was her nest in this unlikely habitat? Why was she so far off-shore? Where was she going?

How did those brave little duckling know to dive, leaving nothing but a blip, when the Eagles swooped past in frustration? They can’t have gone very deep with all those downy feathers. It was impressive how long they managed to evade the master predators.


As for the Eagles choice of prey, how many calories are in a tiny duckling? Could the Eagles’ tremendous efforts justify the meager return?


I realized I have a lot more empathy for ducklings than fish, feeling very sad indeed at their demise and the mother’s loss. I scarcely consider that dynamic when a majestic Eagle snatches a fish out of the water vs the ruthless bully picking on defenseless babies. 


Life and death, right before my eyes, predators and prey. Wow.

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment