When the eagles are disturbed …

When it comes to observing nature, it pays to pay attention, and it pays to stay in one place for a while. Coming to “The Lake” many spring, summer, and fall weekends (and now and then in the winter) and paying attention to the wildlife and other aspects of the natural environment allows me to see and experience things not otherwise possible.

Looking out to the north from the cabin is a bay about a kilometer by a kilometer in size. The left side, as I view it, is rimmed half way round by a marsh, which is partly held by a back-spit causing a very small south facing (leeward, in this case) embayment where the loons nest, which eventually joins the ridge backing the marsh to form a false point seemingly defining the edge of the bay. (The actual edge of the bay is out of sight just around the corner from “false point.”) This ridge is forested, and there are about ten big white pines distributed among other smaller trees. The second pine from the left has the eagle nest in it, and this can only be seen by walking out on the dock and looking straight west. The last two pines on the right, near the end of the point, are backed by sky so any large bird roosting in them is visible with the naked eye and if it is a mature bald eagle, this is usually discernible from the cabin. With binoculars we can easily watch the resident kingfisher(s) roosting on various branches of the brush below these pines.

So yesterday afternoon, I heard an eagle vocalizing, and quickly spotted it out on the second pine from the right …. by the point. Eagles vocalize a lot when they are nest building and when they have chicks on the nest and when the young is less than a year old. Otherwise, they don’t vocalize much. The eagles that live here are a pair and a three year old. Other years, the offspring is gone in the third year and the adults are fixing up the nest and laying eggs, but they did not do that this year. Vocalization by these eagles at this time is entirely unexpected. This drew my attention and caused me to say to the others at the cabin, “Something is wrong with the eagles…”

I should mention something about eagles. If you watch movies or TV and you see a bald eagle, it may have a rather impressive vocalization, which you’ll hear as you see the eagle swooping around, wings outstretched, it’s beak opening, and the sound “Kerrrrrrrrr!! Kerrrrrrrr!” coming out as it scans the ground below with its eagle-eyes.

Very impressive. This is the sound one imagines some creature of Tolkien’s Middle Earth making as it flies over a battle field of orcs and elves. Or the sound the Bald Eagle at the White House makes when someone in some foreign land makes fun of some Marines. Or something.

But actually, this sound: “Kerrrrr!!! Kerrrrrr!” is usually lifted from a red-tailed hawk and the eagle is lip syncing. Red-tails sound like that, bald eagles do not.

Eagles sound more like this:

“Eeek… Eeky eeky eekykyky eeek eeky eky eek.”

At best.

Ducks sound more majestic. I’m sure whoever decided the National Bird of the United States of America was to be the Bald Eagle had not heard them vocalize. (As you may know, Ben Franklin had suggested that the turkey be the National Bird of America. Gobble gobble gobble.)

Anyway, I heard the eagle yesterday and knew something was amiss, and this morning, early, at sunup, I heard the eagle very close to the cabin, vocalizing, perhaps from one of the white pines on the lot, or as it swooped over head.

“Eeek… Eeky eeky eekykyky eeek eeky eky eek.”

Minutes later, crows were going wild. The loons, of course, were going loony. Something was going on.

So today just before noon I was mucking around with some stuff in the front yard of the cabin (the side away from the lake) and I heard the distinctive vocalization of an osprey. There are no osprey any where near the bay we are on, because the bald eagles have claimed this territory. But I heard the osprey, and when I looked up, there were two osprey and one bald eagle engaged in a pretty serious aerial battle.

Where I have observed osprey and bald eagle interaction, the bald eagle is dominant, and in fact, will often attack an osprey who has just caught a fish, cause the osprey to drop the fish, then grab the fish (in mid air if possible) forcing the smaller fish eagle to get a second fish if it wants to eat. One summer, for a few weeks, I watched this happen daily with a particular osprey and a particular eagle. I’ve also seen eagle and osprey flying around in the same vicinity on this lake, but not on this part of the lake very often.

I have a theory as to what was going on. There have been a couple of osprey nests in the vicinity (meaning within five miles or so) that have produced offspring over the last year. This means that there are osprey looking for nesting sites. Long lived, high parental investment monogamous creatures, including eagles, gibbons, and humans, will often invest in their offspring by helping them take new territories when they reach sexual maturity. It is quite possible that what I saw was a newly minted osprey and one of its parents checking out the ridge and its many fine trees for a possible nesting site, and the eagles not liking that. Most likely, the osprey would not nest in the eagle’s nest or even a similar tree. Osprey like open nesting sites. They will pick the top of a power pole or a dead tree over a white pine, while the eagles will do the opposite. But there are some dead trees in the vicinity that would make an OK nest for an osprey, and for that matter, there are a couple of nice power polls.

It would be cool to have a pair of nesting osprey in sight of the cabin, but I think the eagles will not tolerate it. The diets of the two bird species overlap considerably. The competition would be fierce.

And I’m not sure I could handle the noise….

“Eeek… Eeky eeky eekykyky eeek eeky eky eek eek eekykyky eeek eky eek eek eeky eekykyky eeek eeky eky eeky eeky.”

It would be hard to take a nap.

More Notes from the North Country.

Comments

  1. #1 doug l
    August 25, 2009

    My favorite approximation is “a squeeky office chair”.
    Goldens, by the way have a less squeeky voice.The ones from Middle Earth, no doubt, would presumably have had a syrinx the size of Souzaphones.
    Of course the other great approximation that is helpfull when trying to point one out in a tree somewhere is to “look for the golf ball where I’m pointing”.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 25, 2009

    I think golden eagles say “Eup Eup Eup” or “Ewwwww… Ewwwwww” but I’ve not heard them very often. They technically don’t exist in Minnesota. Except the ones we see now and then.

  3. #3 Denise
    August 26, 2009

    I confess the first time I heard eagles I did not believe they were making THAT noise.