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Ft. Clinch State Park, Nassau County: Since their remarkable recovery, I
have witnessed innumerable encounters between piratical eagles and
fish-bearing osprey. While conducting a beach-nesting-bird survey on the
park's shore this morning, I observed an agitated osprey take flight and
hastily exit the shore stage left. Some distance away, a large flock of
roosting black skimmers flushed off the beach. Recognizing the behavioral
clues, I searched the expansive sky and soon detected a sub-adult eagle in
hot pursuit of a laden osprey high above me. What followed was a typical
spiral of sharp pivots and parries as the two birds slowly descended toward
the river. Ultimately, the eagle forced the osprey to release its prize, but
the victor had insufficient air space to collect the fish before it plunged
into the river. Despite the apparent loss of the prey, I was surprised to
observe the eagle stall  over the river and drop into the water where it
became partially submerged and drifted on the surface before lifting free
with its prize.  As it made its way toward shore, another eagle was detected
crossing the river and swiftly closing the distance. Alas, victor became
victim as the second eagle charged in and forced another release of the
prey. Once again I observed an eagle hover over the drop zone and settle
onto the water up to its breast. However, this time the eagle was too late
with fish apparently sinking out of reach of the bird's extended legs.  As
the second eagle lifted free of the surface, yet a third eagle appeared from
across the river, but it was much too late to the party and searched the
surface in vain for the lost booty.  The first two eagles followed one
another inland, while their tardy relative took perch in the same navigation
tower occupied by the agitated osprey that had initially tipped me off to
the dramatic air and sea show. 

 

In contrast to all prior observations of this nature, two different eagles
deliberately landed on the river's surface attempting to recover sinking
prey.  These were not efforts to snatch the pirated prey from the surface
while passing but rather plunging into the water to recover fish rapidly
sinking into the depths. Both eagles were sub-adults and I must wonder if
adults would engage in such risky behavior.  Neither bird appeared to have
any difficulty lifting free of the water despite their partial submergence.
I have heard of eagles swimming to shore on occasion and I wonder if such
behavior is related to events such as I witnessed.  Should either eagle in
this event been unable to recover, they would have been extremely challenged
to reach a shoreline in the swift currents of Cumberland sound. In that case
they would have become true "sea eagles".

 

Pat Leary     Amelia Island, Nassau County  

 

 

 


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