Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Darrell Ernst sent photos of an epic battle: Eagle Versus Osprey Smackdown. His notes are indented.

A week or so ago as we entered our neighborhood on our way home, we noticed a large number of vultures on the shore of our community lake. Hoping for something interesting, as soon as I parked I ran in the house, grabbed the camera, ran back out and towards the lake, and then tried to sneak up on the vultures. It didn’t work. They were surprisingly shy and took off before I could get close enough for good pics.

Standing there rather disappointed I suddenly saw an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) diving out of the sky over the center of the lake. And then I saw that another bird, even larger, was following behind it. It was a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)! Now really excited I started snapping away, only then noticing I had the wrong lens on the camera, an 18-55 mm lens. I just kept on firing away as an epic aerial battle took place over the lake. All in all I took about 80 pictures of the battle. The Osprey could out-turn the Eagle but the Eagle was faster. The Eagle would close the gap, the Osprey would out-turn the Eagle and gain some separation, then the Eagle would close the gap.

I never realized it until I got back home and reviewed the pictures, but the whole thing was over a fish. The entire time the Osprey had a fish in its talons. What ended the battle was the Osprey finally giving up and dropping the fish, which I hadn’t noticed. Nor had I noticed that the Eagle retrieved the fish before leaving the scene.

The Osprey just out-turned the Eagle, opened a gap and moved higher:

They’ve circled around diving lower and the Eagle is closing the gap:

The Osprey out-turns and opens the gap again:

Coming back down, the Eagle closes in:

The Eagle nearly gets the Osprey. A very alert cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus floridanus) watches the action. On occasion when the battle got to near the cormorant would duck under the water for a while:

The Osprey again out turns the Eagle and the Eagle is slamming on the brakes to turn after it:

The Osprey’s quick turn allows it to open a big gap:

After a few more laps around the lake the Eagle seems to be able to stay closer. This is the first pic in which I noticed the Osprey had a fish:

The Eagle almost gets the Osprey again:

The Osprey opens up a gap one more time. The cormorant watches in alarm. A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) says WTF(?) as the battle heads straight toward it. The Osprey is still clutching the fish:

The Osprey has had enough and drops the fish. That’s the splash to the right. The Eagle is slamming on the brakes to turn back for the fish:

These birds were flying fast all through this battle. As evidence of that this is how high the Eagle’s braking maneuver took it:

The Eagle makes an attempt at the fish but drops it:

The Eagle turns quickly for another try and succeeds this time. It’s hard work stealing fish!:

I was fortunate to have witnessed this and even more fortunate that I had a camera at the time. But, DAMN, I wish the camera had had a long lens on it when a snatched it off the table and ran out with it.

 

19 Comments

  1. Frank Bath
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Great pictures and an exciting read.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Nominated for the RWP Hall Of Fame!

  3. moleatthecounter
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    Fab! A real d*g fight! (so to speak…)

    Many thanks, this is wonderful…

  4. Joseph Stans
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    Classic aerial combat tactics between mismatched opponents/

    The battle of the Coral Sea in a residential lagoon.

  5. Marilee Lovit
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I have seen that kind of battle as well, bald eagle stealing fish from osprey. Easier picking is stealing from a gull, but the meal is not as good.

    Does optimality apply here?

  6. Posted May 9, 2017 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    An epic battle! The 9th picture from the bottom indeed encapsulates the drama when enlarged. It holds up pretty well when enlarged too.

  7. Posted May 9, 2017 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Where was it? Florida? Curious about the drowned trees…

    • darrelle
      Posted May 9, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      Yes Florida, central East coast. The drowned trees are cypress that were planted about 20 years ago. Most never really took and are dead or nearly so. Some on the shore of the “lake” are doing okay. The lake was mismanaged for many years but has recently been correctly managed by an aquaculture professor that works at a local UoF research facility. It has improved significantly.

  8. Posted May 9, 2017 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Nice series of photos!

  9. darrelle
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Thank you all for the kind words!

  10. jeffery
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Their habit of chasing other birds until they dropped their fish was what caused Benjamin Franklin to disapprove of the Eagle as an “American” symbol.

    • Posted May 9, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t Franklin propose the turkey instead? Or is that apocryphal? In any case, it is amusing picturing a turkey on the Great Seal and Americans enjoying eagle for Thanksgiving.

      • jeffery
        Posted May 13, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        A man was rescued after being lost in the wilderness for several weeks: upon being found, he confessed to his rescuers that, starving, he had killed and eaten a young Bald Eagle. Of course, that was a Federal crime, so a hearing was held at which the judge ruled that, given the circumstances, the man’s actions were reasonable and no charges would be filed. After the hearing, a reporter asked the man, “You’ve had an experience that almost no one has had- eating a Bald Eagle- what did it taste like?” The man thought for a moment and said, “It was kinda like a cross between Whooping Crane and Spotted Owl.”

  11. Pliny the in Between
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    In the PNW we see a lot of Ospreys and Eagles. Both are magnificent but I have to say that I prefer the “WTF are you looking at monkey boy?” expression that never seems to desert an eagle no matter what the occasion.

  12. Heather Hastie
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic series of pics darelle. Most enjoyable!

  13. Posted May 9, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Great pictures! And in a way, the lens was fortuitous as it allows us to see the full context of the action.

  14. Posted May 9, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Drama provided by the dueling duo and the cormorant, the humour.
    Excellent, thanks.

  15. Ken Elliott
    Posted May 9, 2017 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    That was brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted May 10, 2017 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Super! Reminded me of a similar confrontation I watched between an African Fish eagle and an Osprey in Senegal.


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