Two wildlife photographers witnessed an unexpected spectacle while they were watching foxes in San Juan Island Historical Park in Washington State. An epic battle between a fox, an eagle, and a rabbit took place right in front of them.
Kevin Ebi and Zachary Hartje had spent the day observing a group of young red foxes, known as kits, as they went about their busy day of playing and taking naps. But when sunset arrived, the animals started to hunt.
One of the kits caught a rabbit, but as it merrily trotted along with its prize, an unanticipated competitor descended from the skies. It took the onlookers – and the unsuspecting fox – rather by surprise.
An enormous bald eagle attempted to steal the fox’s tasty dinner, grabbing the rabbit in its huge talons. In doing so, the bird lifted both the rabbit and the fox – who wasn’t too keen on letting go of its supper – high into the sky. After a tense mid-air struggle, 6 meters (20 feet) up, the little fox fell back down to Earth.
You can check out the video footage below.
Ebi wrote a detailed account of the event on his blog, Living Wilderness, where you can take a look at some of his incredible photographs of the incident. “Don’t worry: the fox was fine,” he reassured his readers. “It shook off the encounter and resumed playing with its fellow kits.”
According to Ebi, this event was a rather rare encounter in the park, as about 97 percent of the eagles’ diet consists of fish and smaller birds. Rabbits aren’t the first choice for the foxes either, which prefer to snack on berries, insects, and voles.
So how common is it for a bald eagle to steal prey from another creature? Well, it turns out it isn’t actually that weird. The raptors are known to thieve food from other birds like ospreys and falcons. While stealing from a fox is perhaps a rarer sight, the brazen birds have even been seen taking prey from wolves and coyotes.
The phenomenon of snatching prey is seen in various other species in the animal kingdom and is technically known as kleptoparasitism. One of the most famous examples comes from the drongo birds of the Kalahari Desert, which hang around with meerkat gangs. They help the meerkats by alerting them of danger, but if the mongooses have a delicious snack, the birds will produce a fake alarm call. The meerkats drop the food and run for cover allowing the drongos to swoop in and steal the tasty morsel.
Meanwhile, Nile crocodiles pilfer prey from big cats, hyenas and lions actually steal food from each other, and if you’ve ever eaten fish and chips at the seaside, you may well have fallen victim to a kleptoparasitic seagull.
So, there you have it. A lawbreaking eagle isn’t all that strange, but watching one battle with a fox mid-air is still pretty cool.