Readers’ Wildlife Photos: Gulls & Eagles redux

July 20, 2015 • 8:00 am

by Grania

Reader Joe Dickinson wrote in saying:

I was surprised by Grania’s post on eagle vs. gull combat.  When we lived in Utah, we often saw gulls and eagles in close proximity at Farmington Bay, which supports one of the largest wintering populations of Bald Eagles (Haliacetus leucocephalus) in the lower 48 states.  We never saw any sign of aggression on the one hand or particular concern on the other.

That’s interesting, so I thought I should check this out in case it was a freak occurrence, however Birds Flight confirms that Bald Eagles do in fact prey on gulls.

Bald eagles are carnivores and they are opportunistic feeders. These birds of prey predominantly feed on fish, salmon, and trout across Pacific Northwest. In winter, they prefer to consume carrion. Bald eagles are also capable to devour large mammals like whales together with the carcasses of ungulates. These types of eagles also feed on garbage dumps. Other bald eagles diet includes raccoons, beavers, hares, muskrats, rabbits, lizards, and deer.

As far as avian prey is concerned, coots, egrets, ducks, grebes, alcids, gulls, and geese are mostly favored. Though occasionally, bald eagles also prey on birds in flight. These species rely on swans, reptiles, crustaceans, and amphibians. Bald eagles plunges over the water to grasp the fish at the surface with its strong talons. These birds of prey tend to eat by one claw and tearing down with the other. Other foods include foxes, coyotes, gulls, vultures, and corvids.

Nevertheless, Joe was able to supply some gorgeous photos of the two co-existing peacefully. Maybe gulls are just gullible. (Sorry). Or perhaps plentiful fish mean that gulls are not prime food source in this area.

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16 thoughts on “Readers’ Wildlife Photos: Gulls & Eagles redux

  1. I would agree with your other reader’s comments saying I have not seen eagles go after seagulls here in the Midwest but would not be surprised. The population of eagles has increased so much in the past several years the competition for food can be disparate. We use to have lots of rabbits here and we have none currently.

  2. The bald eagles here are overwhelmingly fish eaters, but I’ve seen them hunting for voles in newly cut hay fields. One year I put a still born calf out for them and they didn’t touch it.

  3. When I was 5 or 6 years old I was camping with my family in southern Ontario. I got back to my campsite with my brother and there was a bald eagle perched in the tree about 5 feet over our heads. It stayed there for about 2-3 minutes and it looked like it was deciding whether or not we would make a tasty snack.

  4. While kayaking near my home in the Gulf Islands, I came across a flock of gulls squawking with volume as only gulls can over some tasty crustaceans drawn up on a shoreline rock. This area (Dodd’s Narrows) is well known for its salmon and herring and eagles can often be photographed grabbing fish too near the surface.

    I saw an eagle swoop down and grab one of these gulls and the flock went from raucous to silent. The eagle landed with the prize on a large bough within sight of the gathered flock and proceeded to peck away at it with white feathers falling to the ground below. The gulls remained gathered around their food and stayed mostly quiet for the remaining time I paddled by. When their volume started to increase and the eagle fluffed its wings, the flock of gulls went silent again.

  5. Well I think on the ground the gulls know they are safe, & the eagles are not going to run after them!

    1. Well, they’re on the ground in these shots, but there were penny of cases with eagles flying low in areas with gulls, in the vicinity with no obvious reaction. I favor the plentiful fish hypothesis.

  6. Can anyone who is familiar with N. American gulls put names to the gulls in the photographs? It looks like there are 3 or 4 different species.

    1. My only expertise in bird identification is from an ornithology class I took in college in Pennsylvania 50 years ago. I think the photos are from the west coast, so besides my dim recollection, this may all be wrong.

      I think most of the gulls are Herring gulls (Larus argentatus), which are found through out most of the United States. Near the middle of the middle photo there are five smaller gulls in a row. The resolution of the photo isn’t too clear, but I think they are likely to be Ring Billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis). The one in the lower part of the photo on the finger of ice is also a Ring Billed Gull, I think. I can’t tell what the three gray gulls in the middle of the lower photo are — perhaps immature Herring Gulls, or some entirely different bird.

  7. “Predators are predators”: I think, opportunists that they are and under the right circumstances, most of the larger predators will ATTEMPT to take many animals that they are usually not seen hunting; I’m reminded of the video of a flock of pigeons drinking at a pond where numerous turtles are at the edge: they seem to ignore each other, but eventually one bird gets a little too close to a particular turtle and, “BAM!” gets nailed and dragged back into the water. I’ve seen other videos showing large catfish attempting to take pigeons, too- now there’s a turnaround for you!

  8. Saw one of the Eagles in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria B.C. flying overhead with a seagull in talons.

    It was during the intermission of Loreena McKennitt’s final stop on her Mask and Mirror tour.

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