Saturday, December 30, 2006

When eagles go bad, one more time... part II

Oh, and just for those who still don't accept the idea that a Golden eagle can kill a wolf...

Image again courtesy of Steve Bodio: for more see his post on wolf-killing eagles in Kazakhstan.

The
Kirghiz tribesmen of central Asia have long been known to use Golden eagles to catch wolves, and in fact Marco Polo (c. 1254-1324) wrote of ‘a great number of eagles, all trained to catch wolves, foxes, deer and wild goats’. This would have been some time in the 1270s, when Polo was in his twenties. John Love, in his 1989 book on eagles, wrote of a Kirghizian eagle that had captured 14 wolves in a day. A Kirghizian wolf-hunting eagle was termed a berkut, and there is some disagreement as to what a berkut’s role was in wolf-killing.

Some authors state that the eagle’s job was not to kill the wolf, but to hold it down until its trainer was able to arrive (on horseback) and dispatch the wolf with a knife. However, as is illustrated by the fact that Golden eagles can kill mammals bigger and heavier than wolves by a powerful strike directed at the back of the skull (go here), a trained eagle would in fact be able to kill even an adult wolf if it approached quickly enough and struck the wolf, from behind, in the right place. Accordingly, other authors state that the berkut’s role was to kill – rather than just pin down – the wolf. Wikipedia’s entry on this subject states that ‘These eagles are so fast and powerful that they are capable of killing a fully grown wolf by diving at speed and striking the wolf on the back of the head or neck’.

Some wolves proved particularly challenging quarry, however, and there is the tale of one that foiled the attempts of 11 eagles – killing each one – until it was finally dispatched thanks to the efforts of a twelfth eagle. Love (1989) intimated that wolf-hunting with eagles is all but extinct in modern times but, as you can see from Steve’s blog post alluded to above, and from his 2003 book Eagle Dreams: Searching for Legends in Wild Mongolia, this is certainly not true.

Oh, and while Im here: check out the recent discovery of a female Golden eagle from Buffalo Valley, Wyoming (NOT New York as I said previously!), captured by Bryan Bedrosian and colleagues, that apparently weighed at least 7.7 kg. This wouldnt be the biggest Golden eagle ever - that record goes to a 9 kg Spanish female (though I dont know if this size was ever authenticated and must find out) - but it would be a record for North America.

To those who check the blog regularly, youll note that this post has just been updated. I should note that I add updates, where relevant, to various of the posts. For other recent examples see Time wandering cynodonts and The first new mammal in 100 years?.

Ref - -

Love, J. A. 1989. Eagles. Whittet Books, London.

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Carl Buell said...

It doesn't seem to me very hard to believe that we could manipulate an eagle into attacking something that it would never naturally prey on. Supposedly, back in the 1950s or 60s there was some ass in South America that had a trained harpy eagle kill a horse, just to see if it could. Eagles aren't going bad, human beings have always enjoyed pitting one unwitting creature against another for our benefit, amusement, or ego. What I want to know is... If a polar bear had a fight with a tiger...

3:41 AM  
Blogger Matt Mullenix said...

As someone with experience training raptors for "outsized" quarry, I agree with Carl that this is not a difficult task, given firm grounding in basic techniques; although I take small exception to Carl's dim view of the motivations for doing this. :-) Only some of us are blood lusting egomaniacs!

With regard to eagles, there seems to be plenty of evidence that they do not need human intervention to take large quarries. This is true, in fact, for most birds of prey, right down to tiny (85 gram) American kestrels, which kill animals as large or larger than themselves in the wild state.

I think the important distinction here is the one between predatory behavior and fighting (especially "pitting"). What falconers do (in part) is maximize predatory behavior and potential in trained raptors; no more or less. It's not a pit fight. I've seen some footage of trained eagles catching wolves and see it as clearly predatory in nature: the wolf is running hard to escape and a hungry eagle simply doing what it normally does in response to that scenario. Its response to a fox or hare is identical.

"Pitting" an eagle against a wolf or any other animal would be a different proposition altogether. And I'm willing to bet, that like most predators, eagles would be reluctant to engage in mortal combat for its own sake. Predators don't like to pick fights.

9:18 PM  
Blogger Darren Naish said...

Thanks for your comments. I should add that the 'go bad' reference is a tongue-in-cheek homage in the tradition of 'When stunts go bad' etc. I did not mean to imply that eagle habits are in any way different from what they were like prior to the invention of photography. On bears vs tigers... in pitted fights of big cats vs bears, the bears always come off best, even so when the bear is one of the smaller species (e.g. Asiatic black bear). I am reliably informed that African lions imported to fight with Canadian Grizzly bears did not last long.

9:02 PM  
Anonymous cfrost said...

On a spring morning in a dew-soaked meadow in Northern California I once came across a place about two yards across where the grass had been messily matted down during the night. Scattered about the spot were feathers, gray-brown, and among them fringed wing feathers: owl feathers. I’m guessing great horned owl as there were also clumps of fur and a house cat’s paw with feathers still stuck in the claws. Not as dramatic as an eagle killing a lion but it must have been a hella fight. Great horned owls I’ve read, sometimes smell of skunk, which animals evidently constitute part of their diet. Perhaps the owl thought it was getting a skunk.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a spring morning in a dew-soaked meadow in Northern California I once came across a place about two yards across where the grass had been messily matted down during the night. Scattered about the spot were feathers, gray-brown, and among them fringed wing feathers: owl feathers. I’m guessing great horned owl as there were also clumps of fur and a house cat’s paw with feathers still stuck in the claws. Not as dramatic as an eagle killing a lion but it must have been a hella fight. Great horned owls I’ve read, sometimes smell of skunk, which animals evidently constitute part of their diet. Perhaps the owl thought it was getting a skunk.
cfrost

9:27 AM  
Blogger Steve Bodio said...

Several additions.

First, it probably happens sometimes in nature. One friend found a fresh (warm, adult) dead coyote in Idaho where a golden had just lifted off. Darren knows about the Audubon- documented calf- killing eagles not far from my home in New Mexico-- repeat "offenders". Another friend witnessed almost effortless predation of a pronghorn antelope in the Red Desert of Wyoming in winter-- his exact quote "it was like she did it every day"(he is a biologist).

They also have no sense of their own ability. A Kazakh in Mongolia told me of one that had attacked, to his horror, a snaow leopard (it was killed before he could ride up-- in this case, cats are more formidable than canids).

Finally, my Kazakh friend Manai's observation may be the last word. Traditional Kazakhs like to release their eagles to breed after ten years. He says"If you want to let your eagle go, don't hunt wolves".

But he still does.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Buffalo Valley is not in New York, but in Wyoming.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Interested said...

"I am reliably informed that African lions imported to fight with Canadian Grizzly bears did not last long."




Yes, I've heard of African lions routinely getting their backs snapped in half by grizzlies, but here's an odd twist;grizzlies avoid mountain lions and the only pit fight I can recall in the literature (if you can call an off hand bit of remembered trivia such)
had the cougar winning by slashing open the grizzly's stomach and neck.I've often wondered just how powerful cougars are compared to the pantherines, considering they're quite gracile in relation,
being cheetah relatives after all.

3:40 AM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Possibly the wolves in Kazakhstan can't handle an eagle, the BBC website has some nice footage however ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/7/newsid_2516000/2516021.stm ) of 'Goldie' the (monkey hunting?) eagle that escaped into Regent's Park in 1965, illustraing that the combined might of terrier and British pensioner are more than up to the job!

5:27 PM  
Anonymous dcn said...

I just came across this blog and I have to say it's one of the best I've ever seen... keep it up!

This whole topic has always fascinated me, and I'm glad to see that there's a vast body of evidence for the killing power of these birds. What I'm wondering is this: has anyone seen a photo or video of an ostrich taking out a lion? I'm told it only takes one kick. Scary stuff... imagine what an elephant bird would have been capable of (or, for that matter, that terror bird they just found with the 2 1/2-foot skull).

4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No question there has been a lot of talk recently in the media about who would win in a fight - an eagle or a mountain lion. A lot of the hype was generated by a grass roots pro-eagle political group that distributed propaganda in an effort to get the public to believe that an eagle could beat a mountain lion in a fight. Apparently the same group also published brochures stating that an eagle could take 25 crows in a fight. Rest assured that my point in bringing this up is not to disparage eagles - they are certainly powerful birds. But don't believe everything you read. I think everyone here can agree that an eagle could never take a mountain lion in a fight.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to consider the weight of certain grizzlies that were forced to fight with bulls, mountain lions, and lions. For all we know the grizzly bear that was allegedly killed, by the mountain lion, may have been a sub-adult, or a smaller female grizzly. The grizzly bears involved in the pitfights, with spanish bulls and african lions, probably were big males, judging by the end results of the fights. If you put the biggest male cougar,250- 300 pounds, in a pitfight with a male grizzly in his prime 750-800 pounds. It's like suicide.Even if that grizzly vs. mother cougar video was staged or not, did anyone not see how powerful the bear was, when he shoved the mother cougar, with his left forepaw.It happens so fast that, i had to slow it down, to see it. He shoves her aside like nothing.Male brown bears that are over 1,000 pounds do not have anything to fear from a pack of wolves, or the biggest male mountain lion. They only have to fear man, and his weapons.

9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you have to consider the weight of certain grizzlies that were forced to fight with bulls, mountain lions, and lions. For all we know the grizzly bear that was allegedly killed, by the mountain lion, may have been a sub-adult, or a smaller female grizzly. The grizzly bears involved in the pitfights, with spanish bulls and african lions, probably were big males, judging by the end results of the fights. If you put the biggest male cougar,250- 300 pounds, in a pitfight with a male grizzly in his prime 750-800 pounds. It's like suicide.Even if that grizzly vs. mother cougar video was staged or not, did anyone not see how powerful the bear was, when he shoved the mother cougar, with his left forepaw.It happens so fast that, i had to slow it down, to see it. He shoves her aside like nothing.Male brown bears that are over 1,000 pounds do not have anything to fear from a pack of wolves, or the biggest male mountain lion. They only have to fear man, and his weapons.

9:29 PM  
Blogger ReubenSutherland said...

That is impressive that an eagle can kill a wolf but that is not a large wolf and closer to a coyote. That wolf might be 75 pounds in the piture and nothing like the 120, 140 pound gray wolves we got in the northern boreal forests of Northern Canada here. I've noticed from videos on the net about wolf killing eagles and wolf killing dogs are always east european, or european made videos. European wolves are smallish and nothing like the big, huge, and far more capable wolves we got over here. In Montana and Wyoming for example you can read what reintroduced wolves will do to a pack of hounds in just a few short moments. The wolves of Europe are not nearly as capable as the wild canines we got over here.

7:28 AM  

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