Eagle Preys on Deer: Caught on Camera for First Time

09/26/2013

Some pretty stunning images were recently captured in Russia and released by the Zoological Society of London and Wildlife Conservation Society showing wildlife behavior that few thought was actually possible.

The photos below show a golden eagle attacking a sika deer.  Now, golden eagles are not small birds. They are one of the larger raptor species and have a seven foot wingspan.  But like all birds, they have hollow bones and are naturally light-weight in order to fly.  A fully grown golden eagle only weighs on average around nine or ten pounds.  Their normal prey is rabbits, hares, birds, prairie dogs and other rodents.  For a bird of this size to attack and kill a deer is just amazing.

Check out photos and get the full story on them below, including what happened to the deer.

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Photo Credit: Linda Kerley, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) 

You can see golden eagles in action in this video from Animal Planet.

Here's the full press release about the eagle preying on the deer: 

NEW YORK (September 23, 2013) — A camera trap set out for endangered Siberian (Amur) tigers in the Russian Far East photographed something far more rare: a golden eagle capturing a young sika deer.

The three images only cover a two-second period, but show an adult golden eagle clinging to the deer’s back. Its carcass was found two weeks later, just a few yards from the camera, initially puzzling researchers.

The paper and images appear in the September issue of the Journal of Raptor Research.  Authors include Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

"I saw the deer carcass first as I approached the trap on a routine check to switch out memory cards and change batteries, but something felt wrong about it. There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died." said lead author Dr. Linda Kerley of ZSL, who runs the camera trap project. "It was only after we got back to camp that I checked the images from the camera and pieced everything together. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.”

Co-author Dr. Jonathan Slaght of WCS noted that golden eagles have a long history of eyebrow-raising predation attempts. “The scientific literature is full of references to golden eagle attacks on different animals from around the world, from things as small as rabbits—their regular prey—to coyote and deer, and even one record in 2004 of an eagle taking a brown bear cub.”

Researchers from ZSL have been using camera traps for six years to monitor Amur tigers in the Lazovskii State Nature Reserve in Primorye in the southern Russian Far East. The images from these traps usually record common prey species, and occasionally a resident or transient tiger—information important to understanding tiger population structure.

The scientists underscore that golden eagles do not regularly attack deer, and there is no evidence that such attacks have any impact on deer populations.

Dr. Kerley said, “I’ve been assessing deer causes of death in Russia for 18 years—this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.” 

Dr. Slaght added, “In this case I think Linda just got really lucky and was able to document a very rare, opportunistic predation event.”

ZSL and WCS have been partnering on monitoring tigers and their prey in the Russian Far East since 2007, and are collaborating across the landscape to improve efficiency of anti-poaching teams. Both organizations have been working on Amur tiger conservation for approximately two decades (since 1995 and 1993, respectively).

Special thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Society for allowing us to publish these photos.  WCS saves wildlife and wild places worldwide through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo.  Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony.  WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit www.wcs.org to get involved.

Get Involved! Protect wildlife with David and the National Wildlife Federation. 


David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >
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