Death from above: golden eagle drags mountain goats off cliff

WARNING: The video below shows acts of predation, to wit: an eagle knocking a mountain goat off a cliff to its death and carrying it away, so don’t watch it unless you can stomach nature at its reddest of tooth and claw.

I have a vague recollection that I’ve posted this before, but even if I have it’s worth another look—and of course there are a fair number of new readers in the last few months.

I don’t really know the goat or eagle species involved, but I trust the commentariat will enlighten me (be sure to include the Latin binomials!). My guess is that the goats are chamoix (Rupicapra rupicapra) and the eagle is a golden eagle (YouTube video says that), Aquila chrysaetos.

But this truly is one of the most amazing nature videos I’ve seen. If you watch it, be sure to watch the whole seven-minute clip, for there is some stunning footage near the end.

Note how, in the first bit, the eagle covers the prey with its wings: a common behavior thought to hide one’s kill from other predators who could steal it. Note, too, how the chamoix chase the eagle away when they’re on terra firma, and how the eagle’s advantage comes when the prey is on the cliffs. Finally, I was stunned by the fact that an eagle can actually fly with a chamoix (granted, a young one) in its talons.

h/t: Chris

54 Comments

  1. German Orizaola
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 4:46 am | Permalink

    Fantastic!!!!! This is a clip from a spanish nature docummentary series from the 70′s “El Hombre y la Tierra” (The man and the Earth). It was directed by the late Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente, who died in a plane crash when filming in Alaska in 1981. the animals are: golden eagle (aquila chrysaetus) and spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica). What memories….. An entire generation of field spanish biologist have their roots in these programms!!!!!!!

  2. Julie
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    That was intense! I had no idea that an eagle possesses that much strength!

  3. Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:01 am | Permalink

    “stunning footage near the end”: ow! I see he does not always get his goat though. Great footage.

  4. Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:26 am | Permalink

    That footage is incredible.

  5. Woof
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Is that a European sparrow or an African sparrow?

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      I think you mean swallow. And it’s clearly European. African could never do that. It’s a simple concept of weight ratios.

  6. Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    This is interesting.

    You may also be interested in watching battle at Krugger.

  7. Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Incredible reaction of the goats also chasing away the eagle. And I couldn´t imagine that the eagle can fly with a goat under! Aerodynamics engineers go for it!

    There is no way that in harmony with nature you will die quiet and easy at your bed!

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Ah, the balance of nature. Much like the balance at Verdun.

  8. jamesgart
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Just like a meat eating dinosaur.

  9. gbjames
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    I wonder if any of that was staged.

    • Lou Jost
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      There can’t be much doubt about that. It is extremely improbable that someone would be focussed on a goat at the moment an eagle catches it, and THEN also focussed on the ravine it flies down. At first I thought it was a trained eagle (the Mongols train golden eagles to hunt big game, for example) but I had to discard that idea at the end when the eagle appears to bring the goat to its nest. Perhaps the videographers found the nest and began feeding it staked goats? How they got the interaction with the group of goats is beyond me, unless they used a trained eagle and a captive herd. Amazing footage no matter how it was done.

      • microraptor
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        More likely, it’s a composite of several different film sequences that were spliced together. According to Jim Fowler of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom (my grandparents knew him), one episode of the show typically had, I think, something like 80 hours of film that would end up on the cutting room floor because they’d be watching the prey animals- nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens, finally two days later something interesting happens. So the editors would take the best couple minutes of film of the predator and the best couple minutes of film of the prey and the couple minutes of film of the predator attacking the prey and the narrator would present it as if it had all happened together. Not actually true, but everything shown in the film would still be stuff that actually had been filmed in the wild without any staging, unlike, say, Disney’s White Wilderness.

        • gluonspring
          Posted January 31, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

          It didn’t seem to me like this was one goat. There seemed to be several different death falls. The first one came to rest on a flat area without much rolling. The last rolled down the hill a ways. The fly away with a goat in tallons seemed to be from a ledge, not from the flatter area where fallen goat(s) landed.

          The flying was amazing, but it sort of looked like it was going down all the while, which would be easier. Still amazing. I wonder if it could lift a goat that size and carry it up?

          • microraptor
            Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

            Very doubtful- comments below indicate that it was staged by removing the guts from a dead goat and stuffing the carcass with paper to lighten it, which makes a lot more sense to me.

            After posting, I realized what had been nagging at the back of my mind when I’d been watching the video: the area I live in has a lot of sheep ranchers and golden eagles have been confirmed to occasionally kill lambs. But what they didn’t usually do was carry the lambs off- they’d consume it on the ground or dismember the carcass and carry parts of it off to their nest unless it was a newborn.

            • jesse
              Posted February 1, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

              I agree.

              If you watch the video again, (with the sound off so that you don’t have all the emotion that the music brings), and if you note that there are many short segments spliced together to make a story that the film maker wanted to make you believe, the viewer may begin to see that the story is really this: that, at best, maybe the eagles have learned they can knock goats off of precipices to let gravity kill them. It is not clear to me that they actually kill them with talons only.

              Also, in all the shots, I noticed that the eagles, when carrying a goat, were never climbing in altitude, always descending.

              I wonder if we have two different scenarios here, and with our creative minds as viewers we put it all together into what the film maker hoped we would see.

              First real scenario I noticed is eagles possibly knocking prey off cliffs and letting the fall kill them, then going down to feast on the carcass. They have learned this behavior.

              Second scenario presented in this montage is that of an already-dead kid placed in a high location and the eagle being able to carry it to the nest because the nest is below the place where the dead goat started out. Lightening the load by gutting it first makes sense.

              This film never quite showed an eagle carrying a kid upwards, did it.

              I think this is a very good job at story-telling, and is very good at bringing emotion to it all with dramatic music, etc. Very well done, with lots of talent and time and commitment.

              When you have splicing and story-telling, it’s not quite clear that the story being told actually happened the way the film-maker implied.

        • Lou Jost
          Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

          Microraptor, editing is fine, but no amount of sitting and waiting in the wild is going to get you an eagle attacking the goat you are focussed on just a few feet away from you. Also, the goats being attacked were always filmed from below, hiding the feet. It is common for wildlife photographers and film-makers to set these scenes up by tying prey in place. Those goats surely were staked to the ground in a set-up, as I said above. Commenters below who were familiar with this film confirm my hunch, and state that there was even more fakery and deception than I had guessed.

          • microraptor
            Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

            Yeah, I saw the stuff below about this particular film after I’d posted my comment.

          • jesse
            Posted February 1, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            I completely agree. I added a few more notes in a comment above.

  10. marycanada FCD
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    Eagle’s hunting strategy is incredible.

  11. Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I wonder though whether the eagle is pitching the goat off the cliff, or just losing its grip. There’s a longish sequence where, with a firm grip on the goat, it flies it to its nest, and dispatches it there, rather than dropping it. The question is whether dropping goats off of cliffs is an “effect” or an “adaptation”, to use George Williams’ terms to distinguish evolved behaviors form things that just happen.

    • RedSonja
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:17 am | Permalink

      I would think dropping the goat would be more advantageous, as then the eagle (probably) doesn’t have to kill the goat, nor try to carry a flailing live goat.

      • microraptor
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        Those goats look big enough that they’re probably right at the limit of the eagle’s carrying ability. Also, golden eagles in some areas do hunt tortoises by carrying them aloft and dropping them on rocks, so it makes sense that some would learn to scare or push goats off cliffs.

  12. Posted January 31, 2013 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    The footage at about 4:54 is a reusage of the same footage at about :30, but the later footage cuts to a different encounter than the first. So unless it is an uncut shot, we can’t be sure that the sequences are contiguous, which makes it a little harder to tell exactly what the behaviors are.

    • gluonspring
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I think it is more than one episode spliced together.

  13. Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I don’t really know the goat or eagle species involved, but I trust the commentariat will enlighten me (be sure to include the Latin binomials!).

    I’m afraid I can’t help you with the Latin, but they’re clearly billy goats grub….

    b&

    • Jeff Johnson
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      Silly me. I thought they were kiddie chow.

  14. German Orizaola
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    The team, and in particular Felix R. de la Fuente were very skilful in falconry. So trained birds were commonly used in the making of the series. In this oarticular case, at least some of the images are in, my view, quite clearly done with trained eagles. Remeber that the images were recorded in the 70′s….

  15. jose
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Although this has allegedly been witnessed in the wild, there’s evidence suggesting this specific video is a complete fake.

    In this article, a team member gives his testimony of how the whole scene was made. Translating the relevant part:

    Nacho Sierra was 12 when he joined Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente and witnessed the shooting of the legendary scene with the eagle capturing a young chamois and carrying it with its claws. The whole thing, the “showman” explains, was the outcome of some tricks to get the desired effect. “I noticed the weight was too much for the eagle”, he recalls. “The goat had its legs tied, but you can’t see that in the footage, and they would send the eagle again and again. Since it couldn’t carry so much weight, they put a dead goat instead, they cut it open and stuffed it with some paper. And that’s the one they used for the shots where you see the eagle flying down the cliff with the goat.”

    • RedSonja
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:19 am | Permalink

      That’s disappointing, but it explains why the carried goat appeared to be dead upon arrival at the nest. I was trying to puzzle out why the goat wasn’t flailing or trying to escape, and hypothesized that maybe carrying by the head caused cervical dislocation.

  16. jose
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    In turn, Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente had this to say in his defense (from the same article linked above): “What are those ecological ignoramuses complaining about when I show how an eagle kills a goat to spread love for eagles, which are endangered and nobody protects them?”

    “¿De qué se quejan los ignorantes de la ecología si muestro como un águila mata a un chivo para que amen a las águilas, que están en peligro de extinción y nadie las protege?”

    • Lou Jost
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      That’s equivalent to “Lying for Jesus”.

  17. German Orizaola
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    As i said on the first comment the goats are not chamois (Rupicapra) but Iberian/Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica)

    • jose
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Lo siento Germán, yo me he limitado a traducir lo que ponía en la revista.

      • German Orizaola
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        No, no, sin problemas, perfecto. Otro “influenciado” por Félix?

    • Dominic
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Can you hazard a guess as to which subspecies? I thought they were all extinct but see that there are still two subspecies.

      • German Orizaola
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        No idea… If I remember right, the scenes were filmed south of Madrid, probably subspecies victoriae, but not sure…

    • JLMelero
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      The last prey is a chamois, though. Can be seen at 6:40

  18. Marcoli
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Hey, I think it is PHOTOSHOPPED like where the eagle tried to carry off a child a few months ago. Fool me once…. ;)

  19. @eightyc
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    lol.

    Does this mean that the youtube video that looked staged where an eagle attempted to carry a child off the ground is plausible?

    • microraptor
      Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      That video wasn’t staged, it was digitally edited.

      • microraptor
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        Excuse me, I meant to say that the eagle was digitally edited into the video to make it look like it happened.

        • @eightyc
          Posted January 31, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

          Ah yes! My bad. By staged it implies that they actually got an Eagle to do that! lol.

  20. Alice Wonder
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Most wildlife footage has some staging involved. There’s just no way to get genuine footage of consumer quality by deadlines without it.

    It’s still an awesome video IMHO. Valid for scientific analysis of their behavior? No, but hopefully based at least somewhat on scientific observations that preceded it.

  21. Jeff Johnson
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    This is why Golden Eagles are not recommended as pets. They won’t play well with your kids.

  22. Diane G.
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    sub

  23. marksolock
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

  24. Ramgopal K S
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Nice shot. Cannot believe the goat being carried away by the eagle. However, it puts faith in you that the size of the task or problem should not deter you. Have faith and belief in you it possible to achieve the impossible.

    • microraptor
      Posted November 27, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, it’s a pretty unbelievable video.

      But mostly because the film makers faked it.

  25. Jack Wilson
    Posted March 31, 2014 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Hey Jerry,
    On the note of the eagles’ behavior on top of their prey, check out this paper on a potential origin of flapping in birds (via maniraptoran dinosaurs). Great post.
    Thanks,
    Jack

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0028964


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] follow the discussion at Jerry Coyne’s website. [...]

  2. [...] Death from above: golden eagle drags mountain goats off cliff (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com) [...]

  3. [...] Source URL: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/death-from-above-golden-eagle-drags-mountain-goat… [...]

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