Day of the Eagle

What a better way to spend Black Friday than up in the mountains of Northern New Mexico underneath deep blue skies.  And what a day it turned out to be!

Northern New Mexico has high altitude mountain valleys where I frequently see raptors.  Today was no exception.  It started with an adult Golden Eagle sitting on a perch minding its business and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring above.  Something about the situation triggered me to take a closer look.  Just as I got my camera in hand the Red-tailed Hawk dove violently towards the perched Golden Eagle.  The fight was on!

The Golden Eagle took off horizontally in an attempt to get out from underneath the diving hawk.  Although the Golden Eagle was huge compared to the hawk, the hawk had the upper hand (or talons in this case).  Narrowly missing the eagle, and the ground, at the end of its high-speed dive the hawk pulled up and regained altitude above the eagle.  In raptor fights the bird on top is at a great advantage.  It can hide in front of the sun and dive at insane speeds at the bird below it.  The bird on the bottom has a hard time seeing the diving bird and figuring out how to out maneuver the aggressor.

The first image below shows the Golden Eagle looking eye-to-eye at the incoming Red-tailed Hawk.  I like this perspective that shows the hawk with a serious look as it locks onto the Golden Eagle. I don’t often see hawks being so aggressive to eagles.  Why was the hawk going out its way to attack the initially perched eagle?

Incoming!! Red-tailed Hawk dive bombs a Golden Eagle.

The Red-tailed hawk was very efficient at climbing and gaining altitude above the much larger Golden Eagle.  Even though the eagle is much larger than the hawk, the hawk can easily dive at speeds well over 100 mph onto the eagle below.

The Red-tailed Hawk eyes his huge target.

Golden Eagles are very large raptors.  Their wingspan can reach up to 8 feet and their body weight up to 10 pounds.  In comparison Red-tailed hawks have a wingspan of about 4-6 feet and weigh up to 2.5 pounds.

Golden Eagle glaring at the Red-Tailed Hawk. Their facial expressions remind me of the dirty looks between angered drivers on the road. The hawk looking straight ahead as if nothing happened.

I suddenly noticed a lot of activity on the ground.  There I saw multiple Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, and Ravens swirling up from the ground.  This usually means a kill that they are battling over.  The number of eagles, hawks, and ravens in the area suggested a dead deer or elk.  I counted 5 Bald Eagles, 7 Golden Eagles, 2 Red-tailed Hawks, and 8 Common Ravens.

Bald Eagle snags the cottontail rabbit. The prize that all these eagles and hawk were fighting over? (out of focus image… )

Eventually a Bald Eagle swooped in and grabbed a cottontail rabbit.  I am pretty sure this rabbit was already dead, from one of the other raptors.  Perhaps the Red-tailed Hawk had its kill taken away by the eagles.

All this commotion and waste of energy for one measly rabbit?  Were the raptors really that hungry?

I think the behavior I witnessed was more of competitive play.  In the past I watched a team of 6 Golden Eagles in aerial combat (play) with 4 Bald Eagles over a deer leg.  As one eagle would have the deer leg in its talons another eagle would fly in quickly and steal it.  After a few thefts of the leg between the different eagles the deer leg finally reached the ground.

Nobody came to claim it though.  Watching this group behavior made it really seemed more like a game, than actual fighting over food. Eagles do fight over food that they will eventually eat. However the amount of food on this deer leg was pretty small compared to how many eagles seemed to be after it.

Now when I see multiple eagles flying near each other, especially circling each other, I hope for another one of these moments.

Sub-adult Bald Eagle attacks adult Bald Eagle from above.

And then, just like that the skies were empty. I watched the eagles disappear quickly into the distant horizon.  I am always amazed at how far and fast they travel.  In a blink of the eye they are in the next county.

Last light and the end of a great day in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.

What a great day.  One of those days where I am glad I followed my instinct to “just get outside” into the mountains.  Sure, I missed all that Black Friday shopping stuff, and reading all the latest political bullshit online, but that’s OK.  I made the right decision and have some fond memories of images in my head of the sapphire blue winter sky filled with all kinds of raptors.

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