Down in South Blue Hill, there are plenty of bald eagles flying around, enjoying the abundant forage they find in Blue Hill Bay.
Last Friday, one of those eagles met an untimely end, apparently after a bunch of hungry crows — a “murder,” if you prefer — harassed it until it flew into a power line and was electrocuted.
That’s what local resident Bob Tapley thinks, anyway.
“I heard this large bang — something I’d never heard before,” Tapley said. “It was an unusual sound. I looked out the window and there was a woman who was jogging across the road. She stopped and she was looking down at the edge of the road, at something. I thought that whatever she was looking at must have caused this big bang.”
When he investigated further, Tapley found a grisly tableau.
“I walked across the street and there it was, that eagle, laying on its back with those two pogies that he had caught,” Tapley said.
Pogies, which are also known as menhaden, are small fish that are often eaten by other, larger fish, as well as birds.
Tapley said he didn’t see the eagle hit the power line, but he did hear the crows making a ruckus, and has seen them harass eagles before. And right after the loud noise, the power went out for a moment before returning.
Brad Allen, a wildlife biologist who serves as bird group leader for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said crows often harass eagles, but eagles aren’t always innocent victims.
“Eagles get harassed a lot but they are equally guilty of harassing and stealing from other birds,” Allen said. “I have a vivid memory of an eagle taking an eel from an osprey in flight once over the Penobscot River.”
Allen said it’s quite rare for an eagle to be electrocuted, but not unheard of. He said the DIF&W responds to between one and three such cases a year.
Eagle deaths, on the other hand, are far more common, and department staffers are always ready to respond to those incidents in order to figure out what caused the death.
Allen said DIF&W raptor biologist Erynn Call estimates about 50 eagle deaths per year are reported, though that number varies. The eagles are frozen and shipped to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository in Colorado. The repository then makes eagle feathers and bones available to Native Americans through an application process.
“Erynn shipped 63 dead eagles [to the repository] in 2019,” Allen said. “We want to know about all mortality causes of eagles so we are still interested in every report of a dead one. People like eagles and they are easy to identify in most cases so we (and our local wardens) get a lot of calls about injured or dead ones.”
While the jury is out on whether the murder of crows actually murdered the eagle, Tapley said he felt bad for the deceased bird.
“He had his breakfast, but he never got the chance to eat it,” Tapley said. “The poor guy. He was just trying to get away from those damn crows.”