Nobody knows how, but last week, I went down an interweb wormhole and ended up watching a seven-minute YouTube video of eagles attacking large mammals.
Set to rather uplifting, motivational music more fitting for a documentary about an against-all-odds marathon runner, the video showed eagles dragging and wrestling with goats three times their size down mountains, as well as simply flying off with baby mountain goats. In the most memorable scene, three wolf pups tussle like wolf pups do, just as you'd see in many a nature documentary. Except where the normal nature documentary would cut and show other baby mammals scrapping adorably, an eagle swoops in and takes one of the wolf pups rather effortlessly.
Being a lover of birds and especially fascinated with raptors, I couldn't help but root for the eagles. But the whole thing made me feel a bit icky. The video was pure gratuitousness, making no effort at educational value; there was no British-sounding naturalist narrating or anything to learn about why eagles sometimes engage in such behavior (beyond the implied “food”). I wanted to look away, but I couldn't. But the most surprising thing: I couldn't stop talking about it.
Documentaries are probably my favorite film genre and nature docs are one of my favorite sub-genres. But when reputable doc makers – your “National Geographics” and “Natures” – show animals fighting, it's usually interspecies quarrels or underdogs winning or fending off, like the wildebeest mother fending off a pack of teethy wild dogs from a newborn wildebeest in a there's-no-way-he's-going-to-get-out-of-this-one triumph. But this eagle video had none of that, just the biggest bro-sounding bro narrating in a check-this-out manner.
The response I got from friends and colleagues about the video varied from intrigue to laughter to horror. One colleague shared an admitted likely-suburban-legend of dozens of pet collars found in a giant eagle's nest from a fallen tree, which prompted me to check out the authenticity of such tales. And thus, another wormhole.
The short answer: Yes, it definitely has and does happen. But to calm your fears, North American eagles are not likely to carry away Socks or Scruffy. The two eagles we see around here – bald and golden – really have no interest in such a struggle. Golden eagles prey primarily on rabbits, squirrels, and prairie dogs. Bald eagles' first choice is fish, other birds, and things that are already dead. Or, as Audubon.org says, “anything they don't have to chase.” In a story from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, biologist Ron Clarke said eagles flying at top speed in an open area could pick up prey weighing 6 or 8 pounds but probably nothing more.
That doesn't stop the videos though, even if they're fake. A 2012 video titled “Golden Eagle Snatches Kid” with 45.2 million views, was actually made by students at Montreal's National Animation and Design Center. The number of non-fake “eagles attack” videos, many with vengeful heavy metal soundtracks, would fill an entire evening easy (“TOP 15 Best eagle attacks in the world Vs(lion,Cat,Dog,Duck,Rabbit,Snake,Wolf,Goat..Etc” – 10.5 million views). Even the most educational, nature-centric videos starring eagles can turn gruesome. Last year, viewers of a bald eagle cam belonging to the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania were horrified when one of the eagles – gasp – brought a kitten back to the nest in real time for all to see.
Gratuitous, just-the-action-please videos clearly have an audience, which says nothing of value. Because, you know, there's also a video of a clothed chimpanzee conducting a Beethoven sonata while a dachshund barks at, chews, and then eats a bassoon ... with 45.6 million views and counting.
However, the eagles attack video got me talking and sharing, and, ultimately, led me to information where I actually did learn something about eagles and what and why they attack. And after all, that's nature, the circle of life. So here's to the internet. Somebody's got to watch it.