Friday, December 29, 2006

When eagles go bad, one more time

A little Christmas season/New Year’s present for all my regular readers. The second article ever posted to this blog discussed the fact (note: FACT) that big eagles, most notably the Golden eagle Aquila chrysaetos, are able to attack and kill mammals substantially bigger than they are (go here). Wild individuals will attack and kill deer (including reindeer, roe deer and white-tailed deer) and pronghorn, and there are ridiculous, authenticated cases where Golden eagles have killed domestic calves exceeding 100 kg in weight. Trained individuals in Kazakhstan kill wolves.

I note that those who are ultra-sceptical of the idea that a 6 kg eagle might be able to kill a 30 kg wolf, or a 100 kg baby cow, are never even aware of any of this stuff, let alone familiar with it. Incidentally, I have tried for a while to get TV companies interested in this issue (and in other arcane, fascinating aspects of tetrapod zoology), thus far without any success. In fact Ill come clean now and tell you that I spent some considerable time during 2006 trying to get various television companies to do some sort of TV spin-off of this blog site. I had in mind something along the lines of Mark O’Shea’s excellent series on dangerous reptiles, and I did actually get quite some interest, but evidently not enough.

Anyway, while surfing recently I noticed Birdchick’s two posts (two links there) devoted to this issue. She was particularly interested in the awesome image shown at top, but had some concerns about its authenticity. I was first sent this image by Steve Bodio of Querencia, and have since used it to death in powerpoint presentations and so on (in my recent ‘Evolution and diversity of the tetrapods’ course I used it as the opening slide). It shows a Golden eagle attacking a Red fox Vulpes vulpes (not a coyote or other canid as some people have suggested) and was taken in Finland in February 2006 by wildlife photographer Pekka Komi of Steve first discussed this image here. While a lot of people have seen the best image (the one at top), less appreciated is that it’s part of a series, five of which are posted on the site (go here). We see the two predators confronting each other at a carcass, with the eagle eventually winning the conflict, kicking the crap out of the fox, and the fox then running away. It is not an attempt at predation, and in fact the carcass had been specially laid out to attract raptors.

The fact that the image is part of a sequence of course rules out the whole issue of the best image being mocked-up, and to be honest this thought never occurred to me given that I’m familiar with the idea that a big eagle is well able to tackle a fox. If that seems like a strange or radical idea, then I can understand that the image might be difficult to accept at face value. The trump card is an exciting video clip (from youtube) viewable here on Birdchick’s site: it shows a Golden eagle attacking a fox, though it’s not possible to work out how the whole event ended.

Many thanks to Steve for the supplementary info. This time I will state with confidence that this post is going to be the last one for 2006, and it is kind of ironic, yet satisfactory, that I have figuratively gone full circle, and have ended the year by discussing one of the year’s first blog articles (indeed, one of my first blog articles ever). I can confidently state that something about my blogging will be different in 2007, but as for what that is… you’ll have to wait and see [UPDATE: to see what I was getting at, go here].


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Darren, I cited your first post on this amidst the comments on birdchicks first post only for you to turn up shortly thereafter; small blogosphere I guess.

I for one would definately watch "Naish's Quirky Tetrapods" so wish you all the best with that one.

12:25 AM  
Blogger Darren Naish said...

Saw your comment: thanks for the heads-up. And thanks also for the vote of confidence as goes the TV idea. I don't know how easy it was in the past, but today it seems nigh-on impossible to get companies (whether they be big ones like the BBC or independent little ones) to 'bite' a given proposal. Given how many channels there are, and how much total crap there is on TV, you'd think there'd be plenty of opportunity. But no. Friends and colleagues who've also tried submitting proposals have similar experiences to mine. It all reinforces my general feeling about modern television: that it's unabated shit produced only for the brain-dead. Not that I'm bitter or anything (oh yeah: keep in mind the fact that we have to PAY to have a TV set here in the Uk).

3:13 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I'd certainly tune in for "Darren Naish, Rouge Tetrapod Hunter" if it ever hit the air. I won't hold my breath though.

4:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hallo Darren!
I remember an documentation I´ve seen some years ago where a trained golden eagle with gummy-knobs on its claws was used to catch foxes for a distinct programme(I can´t remember the purpose for this). It was in the german, austrian or swiss alps, and the eagle made a really good job in overcoming the foxes, that means that there should be also somewhere more pictures or films of fox-hunting golden eagles.



11:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is also a highly interesting blog with very detailed eyewitness reports of golden eagles attacking unusual large animals:

10:46 PM  
Blogger Truthspew said...

Found this on digg. Very cool photos.

If there are two critters you really don't want to mess with it's birds and cats. There's a vid on the web showing a 200lb jaguar taking on a 300lb snake . Cats are tenacious little buggers ad birds are too. I've been attacked by a couple of mama birds in my time.

2:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Late naturalist Felix Rodriguez de la Fuente from Spain filmed "El hombre y la tierra - Fauna Ibérica - Águila Real" (Man & The Earth - Iberian Fauna - Royal Eagle). Here he shows Spain's 'Aguila Real' carrying off a small(?) sheep. Because of the filmed secuence with at least three cameras I would think that the ocasion has been staged for the eagle to come at take her pray.

5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating series of images.

Given that I've seen a mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) which weighs ~49 g. harrass and drive away domestic cats and dogs in the 4-10 kg range, as well as birds of prey much larger--when they aren't even raptors--it's easy to believe a big eagle like a golden could attack a fox, or animals much larger than a fox. Don't know why anyone would doubt it.

OTOH, I don't think it's "eagles going wrong" when they do. Multi-species scavenging on food (which defines the situation in which bait is laid out to attract something to photograph) usually include birds and mammals of varied sizes, and competition between them is often violent. When vultures hiss and run at jackals or coyotes with their wings spread, or foxes snap at jays that have come in for their's just interspecies competition, same as when it's between mammals. "MY meat--go AWAY!"

But then, it's the behavior that interests me, not which species (or higher taxon) prevails. If a Great Horned Owl takes a rabbit, or a fox takes a bobwhite quail--it's what they do. (Unless it's brown-headed cowbirds parasitizing nests of songbirds with declining population. Then I care.)

Sorry that you can't get a TV production company interested, though. I would love to see more good nature material on TV. (More good *anything*...but especially actual footage of wildlife.)

6:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Nice page. I don't know if you are aware of it, but the Swedish newspaper AFTONBLADET has used your words - practically word for word - in a short article today:,2789,983615,00.html

12:43 PM  
Blogger Darren Naish said...

Thanks Jon, I didn't know this. If only I could read Swedish... is it direct and unabashed plagiarism?

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


the article isn't IMHO a plagiate, it's just telling generally the key points of the incident and some facts about eagles and their attacking to animals. I'm not fluent Swedish (or English) speaker, but I can understand basically the article. Below is a very rough translation - the facts are the same that can be found in many blogs, but it isn't plagiarism. Aftonbladet is (one of the?) biggest newspapers in Sweden, and it would be a bit hard to believe that they'd stolen a whole article. But then again, the line between direct translation and a new article in other language using the same facts is quite thin.

"During the last few weeks a series of photos by a Finnish nature photographer Pekka Komi has awaken fascination over the world.

Misthought as fake

Many blogs have commented the pictures that have been published. The pictures are about a golden eagle that attacks a full-grown fox. But the authenticity of the photos have been questioned.

Golden eagle, that is smaller than sea eagle (in English?), can have wingspan up to 2 meters, and it's inevitably very powerful enemy/hunter in the wildness.

There has been in example earlier reports about eagles who have killed reindeers and smaller animals.

Used for hunting

It's rumored there's "perfect schools", especially in Kazakstan, where golden eagles trained to hunt - wolves."

Someone speaking fluent Swedish can tell if I've made major mistakes.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Darren Naish said...

Many, many thanks for posting this Jon. Pretty shocking to see that my blog article has 'awoken fascination all over the world'. They shouldn't have covered the silly doubts about authenticity however.

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I guess the article didn't mean (only) your blog. I, for instance, found the story and the photos from usenet news, and there was a link to some site with the images. I ended up here on your blog almost by accident. Maybe you were the original source of the story, but it's spread wildly among blogs, forums, newsgroups etc. so that's definately been "fascination all over the world" ;)

The photos have also been spreading via email, and thus people have been wondering if they're photoshopped or real, so it was quite naturally the newspaper told that many people have been unsure if they were real or not, but they were. Your blog wasn't the only one to wonder if they were real ;)


8:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Darren.
It might interest you to know that norwegian farmers get more compensation from damage to livestock from wild animals, than producing livestock.A couple of years ago I calculated from a norwegian newspaper that norwegian sea eagles "killed" two reindeer, pr individual, per day!Based on compensation claims. The number was down about 50% from a few years earlier. Are farmers getting more honest?
Keep going and do not lose faith.
Have you dared calculate the blood pressure of fragillissimus bending down to drink with that long neck?
Perhaps extra "hearts", acting as buffers?
Regards Ringdal

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hallo Darren, I know this killer-eagles-posts were written a long time ago, but they are still very cool to read. I just wanted to add that some things I have seen some time ago in TV (and yes, there are some channels which makes good documentations). Both documentations were about Kacachztan, the one about archeology, the other one about eagle-falconers. In the first one an old man proudly presented the pelts of animals his eagle has killed, among them a pelt of a wolf. In the other documentation there was an actual footage of a wolf attacked and killed by two golden eagles.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The baby in this video made out better than the fox:

Quite a ride, though!

7:25 AM  

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