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Bald Eagle Eats Whale!

OK, maybe the headline is hyped a bit ala The National Enquirer but my enquiring mind was certainly impressed with the gastric ambition of a pair of eagles I saw at Kalaloch Beach, Olympic National Park last week.  The night’s high tide had sadly deposited a baby Harbor Porpoise along the wrack line (thanks to Katie Jones, naturalist for Western Prince Whale & Wildlife Tours, for the ID.)

A pair of adult Bald Eagles thought that was just dandy, though, and while one tucked in the other waited down nearer the water for its turn.  Bald Eagles are pretty famous for their opportunistic feeding habits including fishing, aggressive predation of significant-sized prey (like Sandhill Crane), kleptoparasitism, and scavenging.  So even though finding them eating a washed up porpoise isn’t groundbreaking, I thought it was pretty cool (probably my landlocked Colorado perspective on things made it even more special for me.)  If you want to play along, leave a comment with an interesting Bald Eagle dietary story of your own!

BAEA_hikers

Some nearby hikers prompted the Bald Eagle to move the baby porpoise down the beach a bit.  It couldn’t get the carcass completely airborne but I was duly impressed with the bird’s lifting power- it ended up dragging its meal about 50 meters closer to the surf, leaving a very cryptic trail along the beach.

PorpoiseTrail

When the eagles were done I snapped this pic showing the dragging trail leading down the beach.  Stow that one away in your mental animal-tracking files!

BAEA_porpoise_lr1
Porpoise flipper- it’s what’s for breakfast!

BAEA_gape
That gape was made for gulping!

BAEA_hop
A little repositioning hop shows off the business end of the Bald Eagle’s feet quite well.

BAEA_takeoff
Sated, the eagle heads off for some serious digesting.

Hey- as you read this I’ll be aboard the National Geographic Explorer poking around Iceland & Greenland.  I was incredibly fortunate to be chosen as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow this year, heading to the arctic to share the importance of geographic education and climate change awareness with guests.  I hope to do my share of bird-finding for folks too!!  My role will also include working on curriculum & outreach when I return.   Stay tuned for (hopefully!) some bird & wildlife pics when I get back.  I promise I won’t lobby too hard about including Iceland & Greenland in the ABA area!  -Bill

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Bill Schmoker

Bill Schmoker

Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
Bill Schmoker

Latest posts by Bill Schmoker (see all)

  • Patch Davis

    Fabulous pictures and story! I delivered the mail on a 60-mile rural route for thirty years, and often saw BEs eating roadkill. Just wanted to comment that the black vultures and turkey vultures did not dare challenge them, and always had to wait until the eagle was finished! Also, eagles and other carrion eaters may be saved by motorists who move the carcasses well out of the traffic lane. (Carrying a shovel in the trunk makes this a LITTLE less gross!)

  • Last fall thousands of snow geese arrived on the Mohawk River in Upstate NY, just across from our farm. One evening,hundreds upon hundreds of them were swirling like a tornado made of geese.
    I took a short video, which upon viewing, showed a large black bird circling with the flock. It was a bald eagle and took a goose just as I stopped the camera.

  • Terry Bronson, Morgantown, WV

    A few years ago along the coast of Maine, I understand an immature Bald Eagle attempted to take a Common Eider, our largest North American duck, in the water. The Eider floundered and dove; the Eagle hung on. Sadly, the Eagle actually drowned because it wouldn’t let go.

  • So so exciting as prey goes, but in May I had an adult Bald Eagle eating a Eastern Fox Squirrel in my neighbors tree.

  • Joshua Stevenson

    First time I ever saw a Bald Eagle close in the wild, it was eating a Greater White- Fronted Goose. Bald eagles are so badass.

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