big bad eagle steals dinner from baby fox who killed an innocent rabbit

Es­ti­mated reading time is 6 min­utes.

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.


Zootopia movie poster 600

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.


Photo by Kevin Ebi of eagle stealing innocent rabbit from fox by lifting both into the air.

Photo by Kevin Ebi of eagle stealing innocent rabbit from fox, who is being dragged behind the flying bird.

Photo by Kevin Ebi of eagle stealing innocent rabbit from fox, who is barely hanging onto rabbit as bird continues flying.

Photo by Kevin Ebi of eagle stealing innocent rabbit from fox, who has let go of rabbit and fallen to ground.

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)


AngryBirdsMovie poster 600

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

Photo by Kevin Ebi of grounded fox after being robbed of his innocent rabbit.

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.


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