So Much for Avian Dignity…

I seem to have a talent for finding “noble birds” in awkward places, at least awkward for this human’s ideas about where one is supposed to see eagles and falcons.

Er, ah, not exactly…

I’d always wanted to see a bald eagle up close, as in “less than 100 feet away, perched 50 feet up in a tree.” This is where one commonly finds bald eagles in the central US – in trees, well away from where you are. The Feds tend to be touchy about letting you walk right up to eagle trees in federal nature reserves. So I assumed I’d have to go to Alaska or one of those other eagle-rich locations.


So there I was, driving along a state highway in far western Iowa, along the Big Sioux River in late winter. It was late enough that the river had started rising, which was what I had gone to see. However, as I drove down the black top highway, one eye on the river and one on traffic, I saw a black body with a white head on the ground in a scenic pull-out by the side of the road. Was it? Yes! I eased over and stopped, reaching for my camera…

And realized that the eagle was devouring road kill. The highway department had left a few somethings there, presumably for the next crew to remove, and a bald eagle had decided to make use of the bounty. I was ten feet from a bald eagle, with a perfect view of it ripping apart a possum and a deer.

I was sooooo disappointed.

Fast forward [redacted] years, and I am driving to work. On the way in, I noticed something dead in the road, a small something, and thought, “Huh. Road kill. Wonder what it was?” I didn’t smell skunk, so I forgot about the mound. Then, on mt way home five hours later, I drove past the same defunct critter and a beautiful kestrel stared back at me.

An American kestrel, but in the middle of the road, eating a flat jackrabbit.

That pretty much terminated my dreams about the dignity and majesty of North American raptors. Points for smarts, nothing for dramatic presentation.

Edited to add: Greetings and Salutations, Instapundit Readers! Thanks for stopping by.


29 thoughts on “So Much for Avian Dignity…

  1. There is no carnivore, whether mammal, bird, or reptile, that won’t take advantage of carrion whenever it can. OTOH, after you see an eagle take (or try to take) a duck, you will never again wonder about its predatory abilities.

    Pedant alert: Technically that’s not a hawk in that photo. It’s a falcon, specifically an American Kestrel, and contrary to what virtually everybody thought twenty years ago, falcons are actually more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks. Ornithologists had to revise their avian taxonomy big-time when that was discovered…

    • Yes. I identified it once I got home, because I’m used to seeing harriers and Mississippi kites up close, but not kestrels, sharp-shinned, or red-tailed hawks. You are correct, and I will change the post and caption.

  2. I have been fortunate enough to assist in “corralling” and releasing a Kestrel. Pretty birds. Silly thing had gotten into the building where I was working as security/front desk. We managed to get a table cloth over him and got him back outside where he belonged.

    • oh man, that’s funny. I l clicked the link hoping to see a picture of that. But to no avail.
      Sadly there was a notice of a 17 year old boy who died. I’m sure it was a suicide.

      Suicide is a truly an epidemic in our country.

  3. I remember baling hay, and having golden eagles swoop down behind me to pick the mouse pieces out of the bales.
    Pity about the windmills. You don’t see that happen any more. (With eagles, at least. Red-tails and kestrels still do.)

    • Back as teener, I worked for a local farmer. One winter day I was running a moldboard plowing a field after the cotton was done and I noticed the buzzards following me. At least 5-6 of them circling the tractor and diving down to nab rabbits and mice as I stirred them up with the plow.

      • When I used a powered mower, the starlings used to do something like that, swooping down to prey upon the bugs jumping away from the mower. With the reel mower I get much less of that.

  4. I took a cruise up the Inside Passage to Alaska. Stopped in Ketchican. Saw eagles all over the breakwater…waiting for the fish-processing plant to disgorge the buffet for them.

  5. I first saw a bald eagle in the wild about five years ago, hiking a trail alongside Jenny Lake in Wyoming. Most of the trees along that stretch had fallen long ago, but there were a few still standing, like the last of the sentinels guarding the lake shore. About thirty feet up, on a tree that stood but feet from the trail, perched a bald eagle. It was a majestic setting, and eagle just glanced around periodically, looking dignified.

    So much nicer than nasty, hissing geese or the bird that tried to fly into my face a couple years back.

  6. Kodiak, 1989, stepped out on the balcony at the Westwind, and found I was sharing it with six eagles… They’re not small and they stink! And they were waiting on the fishing trawlers…

  7. There are worse birds to encounter. A couple years ago, I drove around a blind curve to find a dead deer in the other lane and the lunch meeting of the Order of Turkey Vultures (about a dozen I think, but maybe more wheeling in the sky). They stood about 24 inched tall, and just looked over at my car as if to say they had room for the next course – stick around, two legs. Scary looking things.

    • I love turkey vultures. They disappear the road kill out here in the country, and I miss them during the winter. They can soar for the longest times without flapping their wings when they catch the thermals just right. When we mow our hay, they sit on the big round bales, watching for small critters that may have been turned out of their homes, then snatch them up.

      They are good birds.

      • I hit one coming around a curve while it was munching on carion. When they want to lift off quickly they “discharge” everything from their stomachs. It went all over my windshield. GROSS.

  8. We had a faculty member from Australia a few years ago who took great delight in putting a picture on his office door that contrasted the bald eagle with an Australian eagle that has been known to attack hang gliders.

  9. I moved to the British Columbia coast early in 1972, and squatted on a shake claim near Nelson Island (an uninhabited area then, not filled with :”summer places” like it is today). While boating in some supplies, a very large baldie went for a fish off the starboard bow and came in just a bit too fast. It was about a hundred yards from shore and we gave a moment’s thought to trying to “rescue” it, but thought of that beak and those talons revised our plan, and we just throttled-back and watched.

    Eagles float in salt water, it seems, and wings can be used as oars, and it made it to shore eventually, but it wasn’t graceful. Those enormous wings that propel them so majestically through the air just not suited for hauling out of the water after each stroke. The effort involved was awe inspiring, but it wasn’t graceful, and when it stood up and shook itself off we imagined that it was looking around to see if anyone had noticed, and said to itself, “I meant to do that, nothing to see here, just keep moving.” At least, that’s what I would have done.

  10. In far NE IA, getting a close look at Bald Eagles was common. Farmers would dispose of dead new born piglets and placentas in manure spreaders. Creating a smorgus board out in the fields.

  11. anyway, you can post the pic of the eagle devouring road kill that you took many years ago? Would love to see that one.

    • Alas, I got one shot, ran out of film, and when I had the film processed, discovered that my meter had gone bad for the last five shots in the roll. It was not my day, because I’d gotten the exact photos I needed for a project… and they were the ones that got ruined.

  12. Had a house on Wicomico Creek not far from Allen, MD. Eagles, Ospreys, Red Tails all around the house and up close and personal. loved to watch the Ospreys dive and take there fish and occasional snake from the large pond near the house.

  13. A friend went fishing (on the Kenai, I believe), and reported seeing a huge King Salmon turn near the water’s surface. A circling Bald Eagle targeted it in a rapid dive. The sound on impact resembled a gunshot and the talons were buried deeply in a fish that the eagle couldn’t lift. The bird couldn’t extract itself when the fish dove to escape, either. After a brief chaotic struggle, they both descended below the surface. Only a few feathers floated to the surface afterward.

  14. They are not rare now in the Twin Cities. There are at least 30 breeding pairs in the metro area. One pair hangs out on a light pole outside my wife’s office, when they’re hunting.

  15. Having lived and recreated in the country most of my life I have had many close encounters with birds of prey. If you’re quiet and slow and move at angles towards them, never straight at them, they tend to tolerate your approach. Among my favorites were the red-tailed hawk that would sit on a snag in my back yard while I puttered around, and an osprey that perched daily on a beachside snag who would not fly when you walked by. My all-time favorite was at a campsite on the shore of Clark’s Hill Lake where a bal eagle would come to my campsite every morning and watch me.

  16. The Philadelphia Zoo has 20+ bald eagles in one exhibit. If they just had one, people would line up to take its majestic picture. With 20 – the magic wears off fast.

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