The following is a description supplied by Amanda of an event she observed two weekends back at The Lake in North/Central Minnesota:

There appeared to be an animal acting strangely on the surface of the water. On further inspection, it turned out to be a bald eagle moving across the surface using its wings like oars. This went on for at least a minute or two. Eventually, the eagle dragged itself in a similar manner onto shore where it stood around for a while, and shortly thereafter made its way up the slope by several feet. Closer inspection with binoculars indicated that the eagle was now eating a fish (probably).

It appears that the eagle had grabbed a fish with its talons, but the fish was too big to lift up out of the water. So the bird crawled across the water with the fish in tow. Probably.


Has anyone observed that particular behavior before?

I should note that this happened in sight of the eagle’s nest, and we are 99% certain that this nest has one or more chicks (can’t see it/them, but can hear it/them).

Comments

  1. #1 skyotter
    June 10, 2008

    yup. shocked the heck out of me the first time i saw a bald eagle splash-down like that. i just couldn’t concieve how it could “swim” to shore, but it sure did. the one i saw didn’t keep hold of the fish, though

    [/Juneau, Alaska]

  2. #2 saoirsefh
    June 10, 2008

    Yes, my wife and I observed a bald eagle take a large salmon (length~2/3 of eagle’s wing span) and swim about a 1/4 mile total in salt water. The eagle struck at something in the water, with its entire body landing in the water, and then tried to takeoff without any success. It then started swimming, using its wings in a breast stroke, toward a small island offshore. We could not see what it had, and weren’t even sure if it had anything, until it got to shore and used one leg to pull itself onto the rocky point at the end of the island.

  3. #3 Will TS
    June 10, 2008

    I’ve seen this several times around Puget Sound. About half the time the bird has reached the shore with a fish. Other times, even though the fish has been lost, the eagle has been unable to fly until it reaches the shore and spends a little time grooming and drying.

  4. #4 Edgar T
    June 10, 2008

    This is actually quite common. As Will TS said, the reason is that the eagle’s feathers aren’t waterproof. After diving for a fish, it can’t take off until it dries, so it has to swim to shore.

  5. #6 Greg Laden
    June 11, 2008

    Well, I wouldn’t call it quite common, since I have watched this pair of eagles for no fewer than 20 days a year for three years and have not seen it yet… But perhaps it is more common in salt water than fresh. The eagles in our bay (fresh water lake) have a lot of smaller fish to eat. But yes, it is interesting to hear how often it does seem to happen.

    Stephanie: Cool video. Once again in the ocean! I love the second video on that list which has the great patriotic eagle trying to save the salmon from drowning … Music by Roy Orbison

  6. #7 Stephanie Z
    June 11, 2008

    I’m going to have to go back and watch that second video later, I think. It’s blocked from here. I didn’t have time for much this morning, including writing a proper comment. If I had, I definitely would have pointed out that the eagle is doing the butterfly, not the breast stroke. :)

  7. #8 JanieBelle
    June 11, 2008

    If I had, I definitely would have pointed out that the eagle is doing the butterfly, not the breast stroke.

    swimming.

    oh.

    never mind.

    —–

    That is too cool. They keep telling me that we have Bald Eagles here, but I’ve yet to see one in the wild. (One possible sighting last summer, from a long enough distance that it was still hard to tell for sure in 10 X 50s.)

    I’ve certainly never seen one do that before.

    We’ve got plenty of turkey buzzards, though, and I’ve seen some hawks. Last summer a really huge one came out of fracking nowhere while I was talking to the neighbor in the front yard. It just materialized at a bajillion miles an hour from overhead, slammed into the low branches of a pine tree not ten meters from us (startling the hell out of us, by the way), and snatched a big fat squirrel without ever really landing.

    It was scary, but breathtaking as he beat his wings, struggling for altitude. He got about to the tops of the trees (maybe 50m away), but dropped the thrashing squirrel.

    Then he did this stall, a magnificently graceful pirouette in the sky, and dive bombed the little sucker and reclaimed his prize on the ground. He must have gotten a better grip that time, and flew off.

    It was amazing, because it was right there in front of us.

  8. #9 DDeden
    June 11, 2008

    Really interesting Greg! The video too!

  9. #10 Stephanie Z
    June 11, 2008

    Go, hawk! Bloody squirrels–just rats with bushy tails. Ahem.

    When I’m back where I have unfiltered internet access, I’ll have to see whether I can find information and maybe a video of the person who was feeding squirrels to an eagle by releasing them from a live trap over the edge of a river bridge. From what I understand, the squirrels never made it to the water.

  10. #11 sailor
    June 11, 2008

    “This is actually quite common. As Will TS said, the reason is that the eagle’s feathers aren’t waterproof. After diving for a fish, it can’t take off until it dries, so it has to swim to shore.”

    One would have thought that any bird having to land and take off in water would need to spend some resources in oily feathers etc. Frigate birds, which spend all their time over the ocean, get saturated if they land in the sea and cannot take off. So I was surprised on passage over sea recently, when my crew reported that two messenger pigeons (with rings) rested on the sea a while before taking off and using the boat as a perch. Anyone any ideas about that?

  11. #12 Greg Laden
    June 11, 2008

    There are birds that can get in the water and fly, so why not? There is a bird in Africa that soaks it’s underneath down and brings that water to it’s young (they live in very arid regions). I wouldn’t assume anything bird-wide on this topic, in other words.

  12. #13 Tarun Gupta
    June 12, 2008

    Two years back, I made an interesting yet strange observation about the movement of a housefly. I have documented its movements in detail
    (here:http://hotbacteria.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/mus_domes_tarun.pdf).

    That time I tried to ask many people about such strange pattern of movements but I didn’t get any answers.

    Has any one observed that particular behavior before?