A Crash Landing in Tight Space

Fighting bald eagles carry on their battle for territory in an islander's back yard

  • Tuesday, November 2, 1999 5:00am
  • News

“The eagles have landed — unfortunately, with a THUD.Two of the giant birds, battling for territory, came crashing to earth last Friday in an Oak Harbor backyard. When a rescue crew from the the Animal Care Center arrived, the fight was still going on.“When we got there they were still locked together,” said Dawn Benysek, office manager for the center. “We basically had to pry them apart.”The confrontation may be indicative of an abundant population of eagles on the island with each pair trying to stake out their private parcel.The two adult males were taken to the center where Dr. Tracy Prouty looked them over then sent them to two outdoor sheds for what amounted to a raptor version of time out. The Animal Care Center ‘s Wildlife Care Center specializes in treating wild animals.One of the two battling birds suffered minor puncture wounds to the head and was treated and released on Saturday. The other sustained a couple of large gashes to the side that required stitches. He was released Tuesday. Most of the physical damage was done by the eagles’ powerful talons, which are bigger than a man’s hand. Benysek said eagle confrontations can be intense.“Usually they lock in the air and it’s to the death,” she said. “They just fall to the ground and sometimes the impact kills them.”Steve Ellis of the Whidbey Audubon Society said some of the most brutal eagle fights occur during breeding season, which starts around February. He said eagles have a limited amount of space on Whidbey because of an ever-increasing amount of shoreline development. Fish are the favorite food of eagles, so they tend to nest near the water.“There’s less and less habitat for them. I think we may have a maximum amount of breeding eagles here,” Ellis said. That means that when new eagles are hatched each year, they have to find other territory to call their own or battle current eagle residents for space. Eagles mate for life and return to their same territory and nest year after year. Nesting pairs can establish territories with a radius of two miles but can also live with smaller territories if there’s a plentiful food supply. They tend not to migrate but do move around a bit at various times of the year.Ellis and Benysek said it’s best to stay clear of fighting eagles. Though they weigh only about 12 pounds they are very strong and their talons and beaks can do serious injury. The birds also carry bacteria that can cause infection requiring treatment with antibiotics.“You really want to be careful around any bird of prey,” Ellis said. He said that if you discover an injured eagle the most you should do is try covering it with a blanket and call the Animal Care Center.In most cases though, Ellis said there’s not really a lot you can or should do. Territorial battles are just a part of an eagle’s life. And sometimes its death as well.“It’s not always pretty but it’s part of the natural cycle,” he said.”

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