Necropsy Reveals Bald Eagle Suffered Loon To The Heart In Fatal Fight

Shot through the heart, and a loon's to blame. Nat Woodruff

Rachael Funnell 22 May 2020, 12:06

A report published by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife details the bizarre and unfortunate fate of a bald eagle that was found floating face down in Highland Lake in Bridgton last July, like the opening scene of an ornithological murder mystery. There were no witnesses to the eagle’s demise but the suspect proved to be a deceased loon chick found close to the scene of the crime. Amazingly, this small waterfowl had managed to pierce the bald eagle's heart with its slender beak, bringing the ferocious predator to a swift end even though the loon itself had already suffered fatal injuries. Bad. Ass.

The grisly discovery came about after John Cooley, a loon biologist at the Loon Preservation Committee in New Hampshire, contacted wildlife biologist Danielle D’Auria about a deceased bald eagle discovered in Highland Lake. It had been spotted floating face-down by Nat Woodruff, a walker visiting the lake early one morning in July 2019. He contacted the Maine Game Warden, Neal Wykes, who came and collected the bodies of both the eagle and the loon chick. A local woman in a nearby cabin had reported hearing a “hullabaloo” the previous night, which Wykes believed to be consistent with agitated loons.

Loons are known to use their piercing beaks as a weapon against each other, and healed puncture wounds on the sternums of loons are not uncommon. Sam Chow/Shutterstock

Though bald eagles are no longer considered endangered, they are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act in America, which means all deceased specimens are usually sent straight to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado where their parts are distributed to Native Americans for ceremonial purposes. D'Auria and her team were granted special permission to examine the bird to rule out the possibility that a human had shot it, which is illegal and punishable by prison time and a hefty fine.

The corpse was X-rayed to see if there was any evidence that the bird had been shot but no metal appeared on the image, even though there was a clear puncture wound on its chest. While loons such as the chick found near the deceased eagle are known to attack other birds using their dagger-like beaks as a deadly spear, D’Auria found it perplexing that a juvenile chick could take down such a fierce predator.

Sure enough, a necropsy of both birds found the puncture wound depth corresponded to the beak of the young chick, revealing that the eagle met its swift end as the tip of the bird’s beak pierced its heart. On the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s website D’Auria explains that the case is indeed as strange as it seems, being the first to her knowledge to have been reported in the area. “We know conflicts between bald eagles and loons have soared in recent years as a result of the recovery of our eagle population,” she explains in the blog post. “We are seeing more and more eagle predation on loon chicks and even adult loons. Who would think a loon would stand a chance against such a powerful predator?”

Who, indeed.

Ray Hennessy/Shutterstock

 

 

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