Tetrapod Zoology

If you’ve been with Tet Zoo since the beginning (early 2006), you will know that, again and again and again and again, we’ve been coming back to the fact that large eagles, like Golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos, can and do kill surprisingly large mammalian prey (weighing over 100 kg in cases). And note that can kill does not mean ‘can carry’. While many of the instances that have been filmed or photographed feature trained eagles, we know that wild Golden eagles can and do do this.

Now watch this video…

It seems to be doing the rounds again (it’s not new): I just saw it mentioned here (after all, they reference Tet Zoo), and it’s also on youtube and other places, all of which imply that it is genuine. The footage (which comes from Spain) looks amazing, but at the same time doesn’t look right. We never really see the eagle properly grab the goat (watch closely), nor does the eagle’s final glide look in the least bit plausible. I haven’t uncovered all the details, but I am reliably assured that the footage was staged, involving an already-dead kid, a trained eagle, and wires. And, anyway, it looks more like something out of a horror movie than a documentary. If anyone knows more about the footage I’d be interested: one internet source says that it’s from Féliz Rodríguez de la Fuente’s 1974 series ‘Hombre y la Tierra’ but I don’t think this is right.


  1. #1 Jerzy
    April 15, 2008

    Féliz Rodríguez de la Fuente’s 1974 series ‘Hombre y la Tierra’ had similar scene, but I cannot tell if this is one. I enjoyed that film as very small child.

    Footage almost certainly is staged in ther sense that goat kid is placed to be killed. I’m not sure if eagle was wild or tame. It was common and acceptable practice in wildlife filming in 1970’s. Nowadays wildlife filmmakers would probably not show live kid. However mouse or frog or insect is still acceptable (do you think that filmmmaker waits under a spider web, until some fly flies there accidentally?) and do lots of editing, pasting an scripting. This includes BBC top documentaries like “Planet Earth”.

    When eagle takes off, at the beginning kid is still moving. Eagle glides very strongly downhill, as would be natural when carrying too big a prey. Golden Eagles do it. I read eyewitnesses stories of eagles moving very heavy prey (adult fox) in the mountains by flying downhill. Eagle, naturally, wouldn’t be able to fly level.

    BTW1. I still prefer this (although maybe with non-staged kid) to recent BBC’s policy of editing out all blood.

    BTW2. Anybody could dig out details of reported attacks of golden eagles and lammergeiers on man? They exist in serious ornithological literature. Mechanism is the same as with goat – eagle trying to precipitate prey.

    BTW3. Peril of staged wildlife documentaries is overlooking real behaviour or filming fake behaviour in good faith. BBC’s classic “Life on Earth” from 1970’s(?) shows captive aye-aye hunting grubs in the wood. David Attenborough filmmakers overlooked, or edited out aye-aye’s distinctive tapping to locate prey by echo – this behaviour, now known as integral to aye-aye hunting, was undiscovered until 1990s.

    BTW4. From the length of this comment, you already see I have lots of urgent work. 😉

  2. #2 Craig York
    April 15, 2008

    Funny how the mind works, Having been told this was
    faked, I at once noticed that the camera were very conveniently placed to record the event-especially the
    one pointing down the canyon. Had you not said it was faked at the outset, I doubt I would have thought too
    critically about it at all.

  3. #3 Luis Daniel
    April 15, 2008

    Felix Rodríguez is like a myth in Spain by the fact of being the first one making modern wildlife films. But yes, he faked scenes, including throwing capibaras to piranha-infested waters in South America and other scenes of hunter/prey relationship (wolves, owls…)

  4. #4 Sven DiMilo
    April 15, 2008

    Yeah, it’s very very difficult to observe predation in the wild. Even more difficult to observe it with a camera running. Exponentially more difficult to observe it with multiple camera angles!!

    (by the way, an open font tag is making stuff really hard to read, so teenytiny)

  5. #5 Smilodon
    April 15, 2008

    Like Craig York, knowing that it is fake made me spot the improbabilities right away.

  6. #6 Steve Bodio
    April 15, 2008

    For some real footage– vouched for in comments by someone who knows the falconer– see here, third link.

    De la Fuentes was a falconer and I expect the eagle was trained.

    Jerzy, Meinertzhagen claimed a close brush by a Lammergeier, but he was not exactly a paragon of truth! I have had a wild Golden sweep close by me at a small dog but her intent was obvious and she left off when we faced her.

  7. #7 Jorge
    April 17, 2008

    I am spanish and I can confirm this footage comes from Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente series “El Hombre y la Tierra”, which has become legendary for all spanish people grown in the seventies.

    As Jerzy says, the scene was probably staged, but the hunting action is real (no wires!!). I recall most of the (really spectacular) predatory scenes were filmed with tamed wolves, iberian lynxes, mustellids, etc. in controlled environments. Rodríguez de la Fuente himself was a renowned falconer who wrote some books on the subject.

    Although his methods seem politically incorrect today, in his time he was a really influential figure at the dawn of spanish conservationism (he was a promoter for the ADENA, the spanish branch of WWF). For instance, he helped a lot to change the traditional view of predators as “pests”, whose extermination was openly encouraged by the government. Without his work, probably no wolves, bears, lynxes and imperial eagles would have survived the seventies in Spain.

    (O.T. Congratulations for your blog, Darren. I read it for more than one year now, but I did not dare to comment so far because of the high scientific profile of the subjects and commenters… I am not a biologist)

  8. #8 Atila
    April 17, 2008

    Thanks by the tips. I had mentioned Tet Zoo because of the Eagles go Bad posts. I have corrected the text and included your pontings. Th original text said something like: I had read on Tet Zoo preying on animals with 40kg but never about this! And by the way, I really like your posts!

  9. #9 Jerzy
    April 17, 2008

    I am rather too young to remember much, but remember one part about corvids. It showed hunter laying poisoned eggs, and scenes of azure-winged magpie and other animals dying. I was almost crying and asked my grandpa if poison eggs are forbidden in my country. Certainly it did its purpose – protecting predators.

    Despite that magpie, I would like to see de la Fuente films again. Actually, many good older wildlife films are not shown any more. “Wildlife of Australia” showing all Gondwana history down to spider monkeys. “Flight of the condor” about S American wildlife. Another was about Russian wildlife. Another was “Velvet claw”. I wonder how to realistically get access to these…

  10. #10 carel
    April 17, 2008

    Great footage! I agree that it’s obviously staged, but I’m convinced the eagle is carrying the goat. Sure, she couldn’t have moved it far on level ground, but parachuting to the ground from a height with it is something else.

  11. #11 carel
    April 18, 2008

    A friend just pointed this out to me: An earlier take of this stunt appears here

  12. #12 neil
    April 20, 2008

    The wonders of internet video – its amazing what is there (and Im not talking about my video magpie fighting a pair of Mistle thrushes!). I still remember the Autumn/spring watch episode with a golden eagle spooking red deer to run down dangerous slopes, hoping they will fall and be injured/killed (I think you mentioned it here).

    On a completely different subject I saw a melanistic/black adder today, which Im informed is quite rare – not bad considering its only my second wild adder!

  13. #13 David Rice
    April 22, 2008

    In the footage I last saw of this incident, the bird dragged the goat off the ledge and let it fall. I have never seen an eagle carrying a goat and I think the aerodynamics are improbable.

    Sculduggery is afoot here; but eagles can kill large prey by using gravity, among other things, as a tool

  14. #14 Monado
    January 31, 2009

    Not faked, just staged. I know you posted about the Taung child being killed, or at least eaten, by a raptor… Did you know that there are limericks about it?

  15. #15 Dartian
    October 22, 2009

    I’m more than a little late to this thread but anyway:

    Here is some non-faked footage from northern Finland of golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos attacking young reindeer Rangifer tarandus. The local reindeer herders have known for a long time about this kind of predatory behaviour by the eagles, but their reports haven’t generally been taken seriously by scientists until quite recently. And this footage by a BBC film crew is apparently the first of its kind.

    By the way, it’s nice to see Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente get a mention on Tet Zoo. He is relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, even though he surely should be included among the most significant wildlife documentary filmmakers of all time; the comparison with David Attenborough is not that far off. And, like Jerzy, I too have fond (if fragmentary) memories of El Hombre y la Tierra.

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