BERNI CAME HOME LAST NIGHT and immediately asked me to look up a video on the internet that had everyone’s attention—at least where she worked. It was a local story that had something to do with a fox and an eagle. I went to my trusty browser and typed in “eagle fox” and there were tons of sites to choose from, but as this was a local story I opted for The Seattle Times.
Their article was titled “Bald eagle battles fox for rabbit in skies above San Juan Island.” I skipped the text and went right for the video, and it was extraordinary: a fox carrying a dead rabbit is seen confidently walking its prey across a field.
Then a huge bald eagle swoops down from above, seizes the rabbit in the fox’s mouth, and takes off with what is now its prey—except the fox hasn’t let go of the rabbit!
Hartje’s video is quite unlike any scene of predation we had ever seen in any documentary.
The event happens so fast that even the quick-witted photographer that filmed it barely followed it, so we had to watch it several times to get all the details. It is quite unlike any scene of predation we had ever seen in any nature-based documentary film.
I woke up this morning with the intention of finding a link to the video and posting it on my daughter’s Facebook page. Again I typed “eagle fox” into Google and the first listing on the first page was for Fox News.
“How apt,” I thought.
The fox somehow escaped the notice of writers given to anthropomorphizing such critters at Disney and Warner Brothers for decades. Released in 2016 by Walt Disney Pictures, Zootopia is about a rabbit who is a cop and a fox who is a grifter teaming up to solve a mystery. Zootopia became the fourth animated film to reach $1,000,000,000 in ticket sales around the world!
Where ‘right’ doesn’t mean ‘correct’
Normally, nothing could get me to rely on Fox News for anything—even the time of day. But this was too perfect and even the factually-challenged Fox reporters/journalists would have to get this one right. (“Right” meaning correct, not the right one normally associates with the information emanating from Fox.)
Then I read Fox’s headline: “Eagle snatches fox holding rabbit in mouth in dramatic images.” As I had already watched the video, I knew that clearly was not what had happened.
So I played the video on the Fox site, thinking perhaps in the Alternative Universe in which Fox seems to find their news they may have also found an alternative video in which the bird of prey did, in fact, select the fox instead of the rabbit.
“Eagle snatches fox holding rabbit!” No, wait: “Eagle attempts to snatch rabbit from fox.”
But the Fox video of the fox and the eagle was the same as the one that existed in the real world. Fortunately, the first line in the accompanying article stated, “Videos and photos captured a bald eagle attempting to snatch a rabbit from a young red fox.”
Well, they got the eagle’s intended target correct this time, but I didn’t understand their use of the word “attempted.” When I read that someone attempted to do such-and-such a thing, I assume that he failed to do such-and-such a thing.
If he had succeeded, the writer would have said that he did such-and-such a thing. And the eagle very successfully snatched the rabbit from the fox.
Professional photographer Kevin Ebi posted a dozen of his photos on his own website Living Wilderness, from which I chose these four and a fifth below. Read more about Ebi below.
It’s no bedtime story
So I returned to The Seattle Times website, where Sean Quinton describes the event that took place on May 22, 12018, at the San Juan Island National Historical Park:
“A fox kit pranced along the prairie with a rabbit clenched in its jaws. Then the predator pauses abruptly, looks up and sees a bald eagle coming its way. The predator becomes the prey.
The fox tumbles and spins and the eagle swoops to take hold of the rabbit. Both the rabbit and the fox are lifted into the air. The eagle flaps its wings. The fox doesn’t give up right away, flailing its young legs.
But the bird is too much for the red fox, which lets go of the rabbit and falls twirling back to the ground. The bird of prey won the battle.”
Fortunately, photographer Zachary Hartje was there taking photos of foxes when he anticipated what was about to happen. He switched his camera to video and caught the fast and furious few seconds of the struggle. That video has been seen by millions of people worldwide.
While eagles are thought of almost exclusively as birds of prey, when they see that another animal has already done the work of hunting, they will steal a meal. This theft is called kleptoparasitism.
“Kleptoparasitism is a form of feeding in which one animal takes prey or other food from another that has caught, collected, or otherwise prepared the food. The term is also used to describe the stealing of nest material or other inanimate objects from one animal by another.
The kleptoparasite gains prey or objects not otherwise obtainable or which otherwise require time and effort. However, the kleptoparasite might be injured by the victim in cases in which the latter defends its prey.” (Wikipedia)
“Piracy is quite common in the animal world, occurring in everything from mollusks to mammals and 197 species of birds. Benjamin Franklin cited the Bald Eagle’s habit of stealing fish as a reason not to use it as the national symbol of the United States.” (All About Birds)
Like the fox, the eagle has also been overlooked by animators at Disney and Warner Brothers. Released in 2016 by Sony Pictures Imageworks, The Angry Birds Movie features the Mighty Eagle, voiced by Peter Dinklage. While not the hit that Zootopia was, Angry Birds still topped $350,000,000 at the box-office!
Stealing a meal
Equally impressive but not as famous as the video are the still photographs taken by a second man who was there, Kevin Ebi. He has photographed eagles for years and published a book titled Year of the Eagle. On his website Living Wilderness, Ebi wrote about what he witnessed (edited slightly):
“[Eagles] can comfortably lift about half their body weight—so about five or six pounds. The young fox and rabbit were likely just beyond that weight. As you can see from the image sequence, the kit put up quite a fight, swinging back and forth.
The eagle transferred the rabbit to its right talon and eventually let the fox go. The fox fell from enough height to trigger a small dust cloud when it hit the ground.”
Note that in Ebi’s story, the eagle had hold of the fox but eventually the bird “let the fox go.” In The Seattle Times story above, it reads as if the eagle did not have hold of the fox, which eventually “lets go of the rabbit.” After repeated viewings of the video and looking at Ebi’s photos with a magnifying glass, I can’t tell whether the eagle had the tenacious fox in its clutch.
Finally, Ebi explained that the rabbits are considered a destructive nuisance by the managers of San Juan Island National Historical Park. He noted that while foxes will go after rabbits if they can’t find something better, for the eagles at the park, 97% of their diet is fish and other birds.Big bad bald eagle steals dinner from itty-bitty baby fox who killed an innocent rabbit! Click To Tweet
This is the fox kit after his ordeal with the mighty eagle. According to Ebi, “The fox was fine. It shook off the encounter and resumed playing with its fellow kits. I took several pictures of it after the ordeal and couldn’t find a single scratch.” Needless to say, the photos on the page are by Kevin Ebi.