Red Letter Day: Bald Eagle Sighting


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I was out on my snowshoes last Friday (yes, we still have two feet of snow on the ground) when I startled a group of birds not five minutes from the house. I was surprised and delighted to see that they were a flock of ravens, and then to see that one of them had a white head and white tail! I was ecstatic to see a bald eagle on our property (last year there were only 8 nesting pairs in the whole state of Vermont), but since I didn’t have a camera with me, I kept snowshoing.

In the woods I fed the chickadees at my usual spot, then moved on. A little further along, I found what at first appeared to be a turkey kill site, but when I approached, I saw that what I’d taken to be feathers were actually tufts of fur. (At this point I went home to get my camera.)

Someone had a very welcome meal here.

Someone had a very welcome meal here.

Part of a deer had been eaten here. As I walked I found more evidence of this, from loose fur to bits of bone; judging from the tracks I guessed a coyote had come this way to be alone with its meal.

When I crested the next hill, I found the source: the deer carcass itself, including hoofs and head.

Deer remains.

Deer remains.

This was what attracted the ravens and eagle, and indeed, I found many coyote, raven, and crow prints, as well as two excellent impressions of an eagle landing in the snow.

Eagle impression, almost 5 feet wide from edge to edge.  Thanks to Mary Holland for i.d. confirmation!

Eagle impression, almost 5 feet wide from edge to edge. Thanks to Mary Holland for i.d. confirmation!

This has been a long, hard winter, and coming across something like this really drives home how precarious animal lives can be. The deer was likely sick, weak, or injured; predation may, in some cases, be almost an act of mercy towards the already-suffering prey animal. Certainly it is good for the community as a whole, since it reduces the number of individuals competing for scarce food, as well as lowering the spread of disease. But it is also good to remember that a death like this feeds many, many other creatures, from the coyote who may have helped bring the deer down, to the other canids who may have scavenged some, to the eagles and corvids and even rodents who also managed to nab some bites.

Indeed, when I returned a few days later, this was all that remained:

Deer carcass site.

Deer carcass site.

Even the bones were carried off and chewed up, for the necessary calcium. All that is left at the site now is fur and stained snow, and lots of prints. While part of me mourns for the lost deer, most of me rejoices that my carnivorous neighbors were fed. And I hope that bald eagle sticks around!


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