Deer Eagles and Other Deer Birds

Deer eagles, The Raptor Center, snapping turtles and swan song.

Our intrepid rural mail carrier, Brad Spooner, reported seeing five bald eagles feeding on a deer carcass in a farm field not far from my hovel. Not long after that, I spotted a young bald eagle, very brown in color, eating an opossum on the road.

The bald eagle is a member of the sea and fish eagle group. Even though it is a fish eater, it will take ducks or other prey that are available and easy to secure. In my experience, I have found that coots (mudhens) are a major prey item of eagles.

A bald eagle can lift about one-half its weight. That would mean it could typically lift around four to six pounds. They do not generally feed on chickens or other domestic livestock, but they do make use of available food sources. They are opportunistic feeders that will eat carrion.

When an eagle sees a fish swimming or floating near the surface, it moves in a shallow glide and snatches the fish out of the water with a quick swipe of its talons. Eagles can open and close their talons at will, but an eagle could be dragged into the water if a fish is too large to lift. Hunger might be the reason an eagle would refuse to release a fish.

Eagles are strong swimmers, but in cold water, they may be overcome by hypothermia. Because of the energy expended during hunting, an eagle spends a lot of time resting. Mature adults have much higher success rates while hunting than do the younger birds.

It’s not just eagles, humans, bears and wolves who enjoy venison. I watched a red-tailed hawk feeding on a dead deer near the Harkin Store. The Harkin Store is an 1870s general store where I feel the need to play a game of checkers. When the railroad bypassed the small town of West Newton, Minnesota, the Harkin Store was forced to close with much of the unsold inventory still on the shelves, where it remains today. The Nicollet County Historical Society manages the wonderful site.

John Beal of Faribault wrote to me about hanging a rib cage of a deer from a tree to make a feeder for the birds.

John wrote, “It is amazing how many woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches peck away all winter. By spring the carcass will be picked clean and will be white in color.”

From The Raptor Center

The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota treated 786 wild raptor patients last year, the highest number since 2005 and 87 more patients than 2011. The top-five species treated were red-tailed hawks (166), Cooper’s hawks (126), bald eagles (119), great horned owls (103) and broad-winged hawks (58). Of the 119 eagles admitted, 43 (36 percent) were suffering from lead toxicity. The number of red-tailed hawks was record-setting, beating the 2007 mark of 144.

Swan song

Someone told me that he had one week of work before he retired. He called it his "swan song." I hoped that it wasn’t. In ancient legend, swans sang either most beautifully when they were dying or never sang at all until just before death. This is untrue, but lends itself well to poetic allegory.

Nature lessons

1.  In some parts, the ruffed grouse is frequently called the "partridge." This leads to confusion with the gray or Hungarian partridge. The ruffed grouse is only distantly related to the gray partridge.

2.  A Clemson University student wanted to study turtles in the hopes of finding ways to help them cross roads. He put a realistic rubber turtle in the middle of a busy road near the campus. He watched for an hour as seven drivers (out of 267) swerved deliberately to run over the rubber turtle. Several more drivers apparently tried to hit it, but missed.

3.  Snapping turtle eggs often hatch in the fall. If the eggs are laid late in the season, they may not hatch until the following spring. The incubation temperature of the eggs determines the sex of the hatchlings.

4.  Some fishermen hate cormorants. They see them as competition for fish. For generations, Chinese fishermen have used cormorants to fish. A fisherman tightens a small rope around the neck of a cormorant. The bird dives into the water and surfaces with a fish wriggling in its beak. The rope tied around its neck makes it impossible for the cormorant to swallow the fish. The caught fish ends up in the fisherman's basket. No hooks, no bait, good bird, not bad.

Thanks for stopping by

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow."--Melody Beattie

"In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create but by what we refuse to destroy."--John Sawhill


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