Two Eagles and a Duck at Lake Tapps
Near Seattle, WA, circa March 2, 2009

Posted March 6, 2009

This came to me via email today and was too large to forward to everyone whom I thought would be interested. I re-sized to pictures from 1000 pixel width to 800 pixels and put them here so they load one at a time instead of in one big inefficient 8MB gulp by email. The photographer-author is unknown to me.  If anyone reading this knows who the author is, please let me know via email at Herb Lindberg and I'll give credit or send this to him for his website.

I was walking along the shore of Lake Tapps on Monday, and noticed a big commotion a little more than 1/4-mile away (as measured later by Google Earth).  I saw a Bald Eagle circling and repeatedly diving on what I thought must be a school of fish.  Soon he was joined by another Eagle and they began to fight each other for the prey. Territorial Eagle fights do happen, but I've never seen one, nor have I seen any good photos...

Naturally, I grabbed my camera. The action was so furious and far away that it was hard to see if I was getting any good photos. So I just snapped lots of pics and hoped for the best. I didn't quite realize what I was watching, until I got home and looked at the pics on my computer. It turned out I had photographed a three-way life & death struggle between two mature Bald Eagles fighting over one very frightened duck! The Eagles fought each other for several minutes while trying to get that duck! It was like WWIII in the air!

All these pics were taken hand-held with my Panasonic FZ-28 at 18X zoom, which is 486mm. All pics were taken on Intelligent Automatic which is just point-and-shoot. I had previously selected okay up to ISO=400 and it was a bright day, which is a good way to force the shutter speed to 1/500 sec. to 1/1000 sec. for all the shots even though the camera performed everything automatically.

Most of the images were cropped to a small fraction of their original size, which effectively multiplies that Optical Focal Length of 486mm by the ratio of: original image width cropped image width. The action was over 1/4-mile away, and I ended up with effective Focal Lengths of well over 1,000mm for half the pics shown here, so they are not up to my normal standards of image quality. Nevertheless, they are exciting and tell quite a story...

An eagle swoops low along the lake...

...and heads for a duck at about 40 mph.

With perfect timing, the duck always dove and escaped with as mighty splash! Then 
he'd pop to the surface as soon as the Eagle flew past. This was repeated over and over 
for several minutes. I worried the poor duck would tire and that would be the end of him.

A second Eagle joins the attack! The duck kept diving "just in time", 
so the Eagles began to dive into the water after him!

After several minutes the Eagles got frustrated and began to attack each other. 
They soon began to dive vertically, level out, and attack head-on in a good old-fashioned
game of high-speed "Chicken". Sometimes they banked away from each other at the last
possible second. Other times they'd climb vertically and tear into each other while falling
back toward the water. (The duck catches his breath at the right side of this picture.)

A terrible miscalculation! The luckiest shot of my life catches this 
head-on collision between two Bald Eagles at a
100 mph closing speed.

One Eagle stayed aloft and flew away, but the other lies motionless in a crumpled heap.
The lucky duck survived to live another day.

It's sad to watch an Eagle drown. He wiggled, flapped and struggled mostly underwater. He finally 
got his head above water and with great difficulty managed to get airborne. To my astonishment,
he flew straight toward me in the most wretched and unstable bird flight I've ever seen!

The bedraggled Eagle circled me once - then lit atop a nearby fir tree. He had a six-foot 
wingspread and looked mighty angry. I was concerned that I might be his next target, but he was 
so exhausted he just stared at me. Then I wondered if he would topple to the ground. As he tried 
to dry his feathers, it seemed to me that this beleaguered Eagle symbolized America in its current trials.
 
My half-hour wait was rewarded with this marvelous sight. 
He flew away, almost good as new. May America recover as well.
 

As I read this a second and third time, it occurred to me that had these been wolves instead of eagles they would have cooperated for the kill instead of fighting each other. For example, one eagle could have flown toward the looking duck to distract it while the other eagle swooped in from the opposite direction a bit sooner and got the duck just before he dived "just in time."  Then the two eagles could have enjoyed a shared meal.


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