January 12, 2020
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Bald eagles reveal impressive hunting tactics off the Maine coast

Brian Feulner | BDN
Brian Feulner | BDN
A bald eagle is perched on a branch over the East Branch of the Penobscot River in 2013.

My family has a summer “camp” on Islesford, just below Mount Desert Island. Our house is situated on a quiet cove, where we frequently see eiders, loons, eagles and herons. One quiet afternoon, a raft (group) of eiders were swimming along in the middle of the cove with several ducklings in their midst, when along came two eagles, hungry for an eider snack.

The two eagles were furiously dive bombing the raft, but just as each got close to a duck, the entire group would turn bottoms up and dive underwater. By the time the ducks resurfaced, the eagles had recovered from the dive and were well above the water, unable to snatch any ducks.

This went on for some time, with the eagles relentlessly swooping down to no avail. They finally gave up and flew off to a nearby outcropping of rocks at the outer edge of the cove. Relieved that their tormentors were gone, but still cautious, the ducks continued in their usual affairs. Meanwhile, I watched the two eagles, side by side on the rocks, presumably resting.

Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Aislinn Sarnacki | BDN
Two female eider ducks swim in front of two eider ducklings near Half Mile Beach of Reid State Park on June 26, 2015, in Georgetown.

All at once, one of the eagles flew high into the air again and started dive bombing the raft once more — only the eagle appeared to be doing it somewhat half heartedly, rarely getting closer than 5 or 6 feet above the water before ascending again. The ducks weren’t taking chances, however, so they kept diving underwater all at once, then popping back up when the coast was clear.

This went on for a bit when I suddenly noticed the second eagle flying low and slow along the surface of the water. Miraculously, those eagles timed things so that just as the “bomber” eagle made its dive, and the ducks went down, when they popped back up, there at the surface was the other eagle, which they never saw coming. It effortlessly snatched a duck out of the raft, then flew to the rocks. Its companion followed, and together they feasted.

I have never seen birds hunt with such coordination like that. They earned that meal.

[Maine raptor biologists discuss this rare sighting and give insight into bald eagle intelligence]

Do you have a strange story from the Maine wilderness?

While spending time in the Maine outdoors, have you ever seen or experienced something that was amazing, amusing or strange? If so, you can submit your story and any accompanying photos to Aislinn Sarnacki by emailing asarnacki@bangordailynews.com. If your story is selected for this series, you’ll be notified beforehand. All stories are lightly edited for clarity.



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