Adult Bald Eagle with Striped Bass flying by Pale Male at the Beresford
Photo by Lincoln Karim - 12/27/06
remarkable photos of the adult bald eagle carrying a striped bass over Central Park prompts me to describe typical red-tailed hawk behaviors when our hawks encounter these giant eagles.
The bald eagle is generally presumed to be a fish-eater, confined to shorelines, rivers, and large wetlands, where fish are easily captured.
But in fact, the recent explosion in bald eagle numbers (from a dozen or so in 1979 to close to 600 today in Ohio) has revealed that this eagle can be as opportunistic and adaptable as is the red-tailed hawk. Back in the 70s, when DDT
still suppressed bald eagle reproduction, it was hoped here that perhaps a dozen eagle nests would some day recur in the great marshes along Lake Erie's
In fact, over a dozen new nests appeared by the mid 80s, and bald eagle restoration was deemed a great success. But not by the eagles themselves. Instead of confining themselves to classic lake, marsh, and riverine nest sites, new eagle pairs went inland and built nests just like red-tails, out in isolated woodlots
overlooking mere corn or soybean fields. No one ever thought they would or could do this. Today, bald eagles nest in most parts of Ohio, just as they now do in most parts of the Empire State. These inland birds still eat fish when they can, but a large portion of their diet is now mammals, either captured outright, or often from roadkill
Last winter I watched an elegant adult bald eagle feed on a roadkill
deer carcass for most of January.
Our red-tails perceive
that bald eagles will kill and eat whatever is convenient, including red-tails. When I am hunting with my falconry red-tail, from time to time she will instantly take a compressed, diligent posture on my fist as we walk through the meadow searching for cottontail rabbits. Instead of standing erect and peeringforward with intense interest in any fleeing rabbit, Savanna turns her eyes to a distant bald eagle she has seen and remains fixed on it until it completely disappears.
She knows that if bald eagle sees her on the ground (or she thinks, on the fist), the eagle will think her to be injured
or incapacitated and she will be attacked by the approaching eagle. When an eagle appears (rather frequently now, with over a dozen nests in my immediate area) Savanna and I just stand there and watch the giant raptor's
passing. Savanna is in no actual danger because of my presence. But she has a decided fear of these big birds when they approach.
Pale Male almost surely had the same concerns when he saw the eagle passing through the lower altitudes of Central Park. But just as Savanna resumes her intense hunting, Pale Male resumed his normal activities when the eagle passed from view.
I don't think a bald eagle is likely to erect a nest in any Central Park tree any time soon, so Pale Male has little to worry about. But of course, back in the 90s I presumed that no red-tail would productively
nest in Central Park either. Bald eagles are now adapting to modern American life as well as red-tails have, so I'd better not make any definitive pronouncements of where eagles might nest next.