In the column “Since You Asked” in every issue of BirdWatching, Contributing Editor Julie Craves answers readers’ questions about birds and bird behavior. Here is a question from our December 2014 issue:
After grabbing a fish, a Bald Eagle lifted it about a foot above the water, but the fish was too heavy. Instead of letting go, the eagle hit the surface of the water and then sort of flapped to shore. Is this common? — Adam Charles, Quincy, Illinois
Eagles won’t win any awards for style, but they can “swim,” and the behavior isn’t too unusual. They are able to raise prey weighing up to three or four pounds. The fish and ducks that make up much of their diet typically weigh less. Sometimes an eagle gets ahold of something that is just too heavy, long, or unwieldy to get into the air, or the bird doesn’t have the speed and momentum to provide enough lift. As long as the eagle is fairly close to shore, it can do a breaststroke of sorts to row its meal to land and feast.
About Julie Craves
Julie is supervisor of avian research at the Rouge River Bird Observatory at the University of Michigan Dearborn and a research associate at the university’s Environmental Interpretive Center. She writes about her research on the blog Net Results, and she maintains the website Coffee & Conservation, a thorough resource on where coffee comes from and its impact on wild birds.