Amazing video: bald eagle acts like a duck

February 26, 2012 • 3:36 pm

Alert reader James sent me this great video.  Talk about exaptations: when the eagle repeatedly fails to catch a nutria in the water, it drops on top of it, and, floating in the water, swims the damn thing to shore using its wings to paddle. (Eagles obviously don’t have feet adapted for swimming, and the feet are occupied anyway.)

Nutrias (Myocaster coypus), by the way, are also called coypus, and are large aquatic rodents originally native to South America but introduced throughout the world for fur farming.  It’s not clear to me if this one was alive before the eagle started dive-bombing it.

That’s one hungry—and determined—bird.

28 thoughts on “Amazing video: bald eagle acts like a duck

  1. That’s nothing! I was once on local TV talking about a duck that thought it was a *dog* (don’t ask). Cool vid!

  2. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the rodent was dead. It would therefore probably be waterlogged, and therefore pretty heavy. They are large creatures that can weigh up to 20lbs, dry.

  3. Bald eagles routinely catch salmon and other fish here in the Pacific Northwest by flying low over the water with their rear talons just skimming the surface. Contacting the back of the fish automatically brings the front claws down to grasp the prey. Inertia and maximum effort wing strokes pull the fish out of the water.

    That is, unless the fish is too heavy. In that case, a beakful of water is the result and there is nothing left but to swim for it.

    I’ve heard the story several times and Google images shows lots of pictures of them in the water and standing on the shoreline letting their wings drip dry, though I haven’t actually seen it myself.

  4. Pretty powerful swimming. Note that it’s using both wings in phase, doing the forearm part of the butterfly stroke.

  5. Bald eagles are well known to be good swimmers, doing a sort of breast stroke with their wings. They regularly swim when they catch aquatic prey too heavy to lift. Entirely appropriate behavior to have evolved in a fish-eating eagle.

    In fact, I’ve run across two first hand accounts of a bald eagle catching a salmon too heavy to lift, then swimming to shore with it: one at Cowichan Bay, BC, and the other at Tasu, BC (an iron mining village now shut down).

  6. Wonderful vid!

    I, too, have heard of this behavior. Invert biologist Ron Shimek recently recounted his own experience of witnessing something similar while at UDub.

  7. Fun fact: due to the high rate of consumption of the Nutria in its native South American countries, the Catholic church has declared it a fish so that it can be eaten on fridays during lent. I guess catholics wouldn’t find this video interesting, because, to them, it just shows an eagle fishing. Nothing extraordinary. 🙂

  8. Almost certainly a dead nutria. I like to take walks to the local library along the drainage canal. I usually see a family of nutria along the way. These critters can dive deep and swim long distances under water. They are also very hard to sneak up on.

  9. I have watched a pair of bald eagles harry (harrie?) a duck to death on the water of Puget Sound, Washington. Amzingly persistent they were.

  10. I didn’t know about the nutria being declared a fish. The capybara has been so declared, and Venezuelan ranchers have capybara (chiguiri in Venezuela) roundups, said to bring in enough revenue to run the ranch for a year, at the beginning of Lent.

    1. Did a little googling and the anecdotes are mostly about the capybara, but there are others implicating any aquatic animal, mammal or not. Manatees were one of the ones mentioned.

      Didn’t see anything referring to the nutria being promoted as a fish, but it is aquatic, so somewhere, sometime some priest may have given the idea a wink.

      More likely, I think, Cory has confused the nutria with the capybara, given that he says it is a popular food.

  11. My brother in Dutch Harbor AK sent me this when I asked him if he had ever seen an eagle swim with its catch. He says bald eagles are like sea gulls in DH:
    “Not with it’s catch, but it’s common for them to end up in the water. I’ve seen them pushed into the water in high winds while trying to fly from a perch on the boats. Sometimes they end up going straight down, but usually make it ashore. I’ve seen a few drown also.”

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