Eagles and Ospreys: When Birds of Prey Clash

Candice Gaukel Andrews May 14, 2019 0
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Opportunistic bald eagles and ospreys share much of the same habitat, so ospreys are frequently the victims of nest raids by the eagles.

Proud, powerful and the national symbol of the United States, bald eagles are birds of prey that are extremely territorial during nesting season but highly social at other times. They use their talons to fish; or, instead of catching their own, they’ll go after an osprey or another fish-eating bird, forcing it to drop its prey, which the eagle grabs in midair.

Opportunists, they’ll also scavenge carrion or catch and eat amphibians, invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles and other birds’ fledglings.

Once an eagle gets you in its sights, it can be a vigorous foe—as one osprey family recently learned.

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Ospreys require nest sites in open surroundings for easy approach, with wide, sturdy bases and safety from ground predators, such as raccoons.

Eagle attacks ospreys

In some rare, Explore.org film footage, which is shown first below, you’ll see a bald eagle attack on an osprey nest. At dusk, with both osprey parents away, the bald eagle sweeps in from over the water toward the nest containing three chicks. One of the osprey parents suddenly enters the frame ready to defend the nest, but it can’t match the speed and strength of the eagle, which manages to nab one of the chicks with its huge talons before taking off.

The footage was recorded by a National Audubon Society camera focused on the osprey nest on Hog Island, Maine; and it’s said to be one of the best videos ever of eagle predation.

Unfortunately, this particular pair of ospreys, fondly called Rachel and Steve by loyal viewers, suffered a previous bald eagle attack and lost all of their brood. With the chicks in this video—named Eric, Little B and Spirit, who was taken—being much larger and ready to fledge any day, it seemed as if they were safe from another eagle raid. How wrong that turned out to be.

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Adept at soaring and diving but not as maneuverable as other hawks, ospreys fly with stiff wingbeats in a steady, rowing motion. They do, however, vigorously chase birds that encroach on their nests.

While the video shows just how fast and forceful a raptor attack can be, it’s also a good illustration of the defense natural instincts of birds. When Little B, positioned at the front right of the nest, sees the eagle, he’s able to immediately recognize it as a threat and takes off for his first-ever flight—sooner than nature had intended. Meanwhile, Eric, located in the rear of the nest, hunkers down to blend in and become a smaller target.

After watching this footage, some Audubon bird experts stated that they didn’t realize eagles would take chicks that big. Now we know that they do.

When an osprey attacks a bald eagle that’s feeding on the beach, the eagle flips over with talons up, in an attempt to defend itself. ©From the video “Osprey Attacks Eagle—Slow Motion,” Drew Fulton

Osprey assaults eagle—and interloping geese

But ospreys, too, launch their share of attacks—and some of them are on eagles. In the second video below, you’ll see that the tables have been turned. In it, an osprey attacks a bald eagle that’s on the beach, feeding on a large catfish. This slow-motion capture, filmed at 240 frames per second by Drew Fulton, is stunning.

In the third video, an osprey is on the attack again—this time, with a weapon! The target is some Canada geese. You’ll watch the encounter first in real time, followed by a slow-motion replay.

Some believe that the Canada geese may have been at fault here; since the osprey was carrying a stick, it appears that the bird may have been building the nest when the geese chose to roost on the wrong spot at the wrong time.

A lucky strike

As for osprey parents Rachel and Steve, their most recent nesting drama, luckily, ends somewhat happily. Not only did Eric survive, but National Audubon Society staffers later found Little B on the mainland alive and well—with his parents perched nearby.

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

Candy

 

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