Bald Eagle Does the Breaststroke

Candice Gaukel Andrews April 12, 2012 30

While bald eagles mainly eat fish and are excellent at catching them, they sometimes run into problems.

Eagle watchers—and just about all of us in North America—are familiar with the well-documented athletic abilities of our national emblem, the bald eagle. You’ve seen countless films of them, noiselessly swooping down upon unsuspecting fish, swiping them up with strong, sharp talons and then soaring away for the land to indulge in a tasty meal.

However, as any nature traveler knows, sometimes things don’t go as planned.

We rarely picture our majestic bald eagles swimming. But according to eagle experts, they are very good at the sport. In fact, it’s not uncommon for an eagle to misjudge prey and latch into a fish too heavy or large to fly with. So, they go with the flow—so to speak—and give swimming to shore a shot.

Such a decision is not without significant dangers, however. Eagles have drowned during encounters with fish or if they were unable to swim far enough to reach shore. Once an eagle is in the water, it cannot fly again until it’s out of the water—making the decision to swim an all or nothing proposition. And if the water is very cold, hypothermia could set in.

These facts make watching the following videos all that much more amazing. We did well to select the bald eagle as our national emblem: it seems they personify steely determination at its best.

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,




  1. emily December 5, 2013 at 9:11 am - Reply

    how do bald eagles swim

  2. Adriana May 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    …this style is more like a butterfly stroke…, which should be renamed: “eagle stroke”!

    • emily December 5, 2013 at 9:11 am - Reply


  3. Kathleen McGee April 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    The fish eating raptors do indeed have a difficult choice to make when the fish is either too large or the feathers have become to wet to fly again. Here in North Idaho last year over a dozen Osprey were taken to vet clinics for injuries. Our NPO has a study to discover why and how these injuries are being sustained – perhaps fights over food, perhaps hypothermia, often fisning line entanglement. If you are in our area we would enjoy your volunteering for this behavioral study. We have not seen Eagles with this type of tauma but perhaps they have simply not been rescued in time.

  4. Monica April 26, 2012 at 4:51 am - Reply

    What?! I had no idea that eagles can “swim”. Wow!

  5. Patti April 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    That is amazing! That is one smart eagle! Thanks for sharing. I’d shared it on FB, too 🙂

  6. Sarah April 18, 2012 at 10:52 am - Reply

    Amazing! Thanks for sharing!

  7. JMT April 18, 2012 at 10:37 am - Reply

    wow. I know the Bald Eagle has made a come back, we studied them in W.PA and counted the numbers on forest public lands. You can see that determination.

  8. Adriana April 17, 2012 at 5:02 am - Reply

    Truly amazing!!! What awesome animals… and how wonderful to capture that on camera!

  9. Samantha April 15, 2012 at 8:50 am - Reply

    Thank You Candice. I didn’t know it either.

  10. KC April 15, 2012 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Wow! Thanks for sharing. I had no idea that bald eagles could swim!

  11. Candice Gaukel Andrews April 13, 2012 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    Not sure if he made it to shore or not, since the video was cut short. But let’s hope he did – it seems like he was very close! C.G.A.

  12. Lisa April 13, 2012 at 1:45 pm - Reply

    I didn’t know eagles could do that! It’s great.

  13. Mike S. April 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm - Reply

    What a great video Candice! I have had a similar experience here on Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge only with a Golden eagle. I always have one of our game cameras set up in an area of the Refuge with a couple of small ponds. One day it caught this eagle as it entered the water, then again about halfway across and finally as he approached the other bank. Since there are no fish in these ponds, I assumed he was actually taking a swim on purpose to clean and cool down. I had always wished I had the camera set up for video on this occasion, because I had never seen an eagle swimming and I was curious at how they did it. After watching your videos, I have been enlightened. Thank you!

  14. Gonnie April 13, 2012 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing this, my husband and I do love birds of prey and didn’t know this. Wonderful to see.

  15. Emily April 13, 2012 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    Absolutely amazing. What was the thing in the water that the Eagle was after? Seems like if it were a fish it would have been long gone.

  16. KP April 13, 2012 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Very cool, Candice. Wondering though – in the second video, does that eagle make it to the shore?

  17. Sameera Nath April 13, 2012 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Amazing, this is what is known as adaptability and survival skills in nature. Thanks a lot for sharing this information.

  18. Kirk Neuner April 13, 2012 at 7:01 am - Reply

    Good thing there were no Gators to worry about the amazing predator could have become the prey and this spectacular footage would not exist.

  19. Kathryn Pasternak April 13, 2012 at 3:55 am - Reply

    does the second bald eagle make it to the shore?

  20. Hal April 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Amazing video. We have three Bald Eagles that frequent our lake, but never have I seen one swim.

  21. Candice Gaukel Andrews April 12, 2012 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing it Candice!

  22. Linda April 12, 2012 at 9:43 am - Reply

    That was nice to watch and see just the determination this eagle has!

  23. Candice Gaukel Andrews April 12, 2012 at 8:37 am - Reply

    You sure can, Dan! Somehow, though, “Bald Eagle Does the Butterfly” probably wouldn’t be the best headline!


  24. JLH April 12, 2012 at 8:21 am - Reply


    • Dan April 12, 2012 at 8:32 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing. this was amazing. Dare I add that the eagle is actually doing the butterfly, not the breaststroke?

  25. Sharon April 12, 2012 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Amazing display of determination and grit!

  26. MD April 12, 2012 at 8:07 am - Reply

    thanks for shearing this information:)

  27. Candice Gaukel Andrews April 12, 2012 at 8:05 am - Reply


    It is incredible, isn’t it?

    And, I just saw a mature bald eagle this morning near my home for the first time. Very adaptable birds!


  28. Amanda Hughes Horan April 12, 2012 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Amazing footage Candice. Thanks so much for sharing. I’ve taken the liberty to pass along! Amanda

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