Yikes! I hope those eagles aren't eating our deer friends!

Bald eagles becoming bold predators
Observer staff writer
Tuesday, July 07, 2009
Photo: KEVIN HEIMBIGNER/Chinook Observer
An immature eagle dines on a fawn
on the beach. The deer’s tracks in the sand indicate that it was hunted down
from the air.

LONG BEACH - The morning of July 1 while driving south on the beach adjacent to the cablevision tower I spotted three bald eagles squabbling where the dry sand begins. They were actively feasting on what I thought was a seal. Approaching on foot I got the camera ready, but the eagles did not cooperate by staying together long enough for me to take a picture of all three.

Then I noticed their meal was a small deer of about 40 pounds. The eagles took turns eating and then retreating to the safety of the dunes. Driving off I saw tracks and stopped to check them out. The tracks were those of the fawn and they were deep in the hard sand and wide apart. The deer had been in full flight, throwing sand a couple of feet when it had violently changed directions numerous times.

I looked for other animal tracks to see what had chased and likely killed the fawn. There were none and no tire tracks to indicate someone may have accidentally struck the racing animal. The logical conclusion was that the three eagles, two young ones and one mature adult, had somehow killed their prey. Approaching the scene it was clear that the 40-pound buck had stopped where the eagles had evidently caught up to it in the soft sand.

A quarter-mile further south I spotted another mature eagle and after a minute it flew off in the direction of the deer. I turned back north and followed and sure enough he joined in the meal after a brief flutter of feathers. According to Wikepedia the bald eagle's main diet is fish, but they are known to prey on raccoons and deer fawns.

Ten or 15 years ago a bald eagle on the beach was rare as hen's teeth, a treat. The past few years a drive on the hard sand from Ocean Park to Long Beach more often than not reveals at least one eagle and sometimes as many as half a dozen on the beach or perched on the dunes.

I have seen at least three times when eagles have had rabbits in their clutches as the birds are doing what they are supposed to do, as predators they are controlling populations of fish, rodents and rabbits. Reports of a small dog being swept away in the talons, collar and all, and of domestic cats being snatched up from the beach grass are becoming more common.

As the population of bald eagles continues to increase on the Peninsula the vigilance one has for their pets must also increase. Keeping an eagle eye out for these beautiful and spectacular predators is becoming a must.

The bald eagle had been on the endangered species list, but was officially de-classified June 28, 2007. Restrictions on the pesticide DDT has allowed eagle populations to again increase nationwide. To shoot or willfully harm an eagle is a federal offense, however, and led to several years of incarceration.