The Outside World, In and Around Duluth

Eagle Hunting Mallard

A couple of months ago, I saw a mature bald eagle hunt and finally catch a mallard in the water. It was pretty cool to see, and I didn’t figure I’d get to see anything like that again soon. I was mistaken.

During this year’s Brrrrdathon (supporting the Friends of Sax Zim Bog), I had the chance to see – almost – that entire scene played out again.

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Mallards aren’t typically known for their diving (they are dabblers), but when I watched this happen a couple of months ago, every time the eagle would swoop in, the mallard would dive underwater to get away. The eagle would hover, and as it saw the mallard surfacing it would make another attempt. This went on for at least twenty attempts, and eventually, the eagle’s persistence was rewarded. It caught the mallard in its talons, and then just floated on the water above the mallard for about 15 or 20 seconds before hauling itself and the mallard in its talons up into the air and over to shore. The eagle landed and ate.

At about 9:30am, we were riding our bikes toward Duluth Canal Park and saw an immature bald eagle swooping low, over Lake Superior. As we got closer, we saw what was happening – the eagle was trying to catch a male mallard. You can see the mallard quacking in alarm here:

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Here, the mallard is gathering itself to dive underwater:

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As the eagle gets close, the mallard is about as tightly wound as it can be, preparing to dive:

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As the mallard shoved itself underwater, a common goldeneye surfaced, and the eagle quickly changed course:

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Unfortunately for the eagle, goldeneyes are much better underwater swimmers than mallards, and the eagle missed both targets. It flew up to the railing for a brief rest:

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The perspective makes the eagle look bigger than it really was. Or maybe not!

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Eventually, the eagle decided it was time to try again. Here it is, about to launch:

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Gathering air:

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And off it goes:

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Sibley’s Guide to Birds shows that a 3rd year bald eagle will still be mottled, but it will have a clearly visible and dark eyestripe:

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The eagle went out for one more attempt to catch the mallard, and it was as close to success as we saw. Its talons actually made contact with the mallard, but not enough to hold on:

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After that last pass, the eagle decided it had had enough, and flew off to look for easier prey.

The mallard spent the next few minutes preening.

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It probably needed a rest itself, to let his heart rate settle back down and catch his breath!

Considering that I’ve now seen this sort of thing twice in the past few months, I’m starting to think that it may not be as unusual as I thought. Regardless of how common it is, it was fun to watch this excitement happen in such close proximity!

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4 responses

  1. Great series, Brian! Amazing you got to see this play out again!

    January 18, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    • Bry

      Thanks, Kathy!

      January 19, 2015 at 6:22 am

  2. Reblogged this on Travel. Garden. Eat. and commented:
    If you aren’t following my friend Bryan’s blog — “Outside Duluth” — you may want to add it to your list. His latest post has a spectacular series of photos, showing a hawk hunting a mallard on Lake Superior. Check it out and enjoy another perspective on outdoor life up north! ~ Kat

    January 20, 2015 at 10:06 am

  3. LOVED it!! It’s rare to witness something like that. Great photos.

    January 22, 2015 at 1:22 pm

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