Friday, February 2, 2018

The eagle has landed

I was on my way to town - taking back roads, as usual - when a flash of white caught my eye. 

Eagle.  On the ground.  Completely occupied with something it was eating.

I pulled over for a better look.

While the American bald eagle is not an uncommon bird in Central Florida, sightings are infrequently enough to give me pause.  And pause is precisely what I did when I realized what I'd chanced upon.

The eagle - a solidly built bundle of black and white feathers with a huge golden beak, penetrating eyes beneath heavy brows and sharp talons protruding from a sturdy pair of strong legs - paid me no heed as it tore chunks of meat off its unfortunate prey.

Every few seconds the majestic bird - adult American bald eagles can weigh up 14 pounds with a wingspan of 5.9 to 7.5 feet - it would stop eating to check its surroundings before continuing to tear apart flesh with its powerful beak.

As I sat in my car taking pictures with through the open window, I tried to figure out what animal the eagle was eating.  Bald eagles are opportunistic feeders who are just as likely to feast upon roadkill as they are prey they've stolen from others or captured themselves.

Although it was difficult to tell from my seated vantage point - I hesitated to get out of the car lest I scare the bird away - the size, shape and color of the critter caused me to conclude it was an armadillo.

In Florida, bald eagles primarily feed upon fish. According to one study conducted in north-central Florida, bald eagle diet was composed of 78 percent fish (mostly catfish), 17 percent birds (mainly American coot), three percent mammals, and one percent amphibians and reptiles combined.

Whatever this particular raptor was eating, it wasted no time consuming as much of its found delicacy as possible. The reason why it was rushing soon became obvious.  Vultures.  Lots and lots of vultures. 

While bald eagles may be masters of stealing fish away from ospreys and chowing down on carrion along roadsides, a murder of vultures is just as eager to steal dead meat away from a lone eagle.

And indeed, that's precisely what happened.  The vultures - there must have been a dozen waiting in the wings for just the right moment - suddenly flew close enough to the eagle to scare it away.  The eagle took flight and the remaining carcass of the chewed apart animal was soon set up by a new group of hungry birds.

What an encounter! 

For those who wonder (queue my husband) why I stubbornly choose back roads instead of more direct routes from Point A to Point B, an encounter like this is the reason why.

I never know what I'm going to find when I take the long road home but there's always something - often many somethings - to catch my eye and be captured by my camera. This time it was something special - a bald eagle having a feast.  It was a feast for me too.  A feast for my eyes. 

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