Monday, April 9, 2012

Scrapping for Scraps

It's been a long, lean winter for many of Montana's animals. Here at the end of the road, our resident pair of Bald Eagles started incubating eggs almost two weeks ago, but the lake ice won't break up for another week or two. So when a subadult eagle found some sort of morsel today in the melting ice, a battle broke out quickly over a little scrap of food.

Battling Bald Eagles
(c) John Ashley
An adult Bald eagle drives a subadult away from a small food item on the surface of a frozen lake.

One adult flew over from their nest, knocked the youngster on its side, and took possession of the food. The subadult mounted a counter-attack and managed to retake the morsel that remained. The adults then exchanged places, with one returning to the nest and the other flying across the lake to mob the subadult. The second adult bit the youngster in the butt and scored a small scrap before flying off again. As the younger eagle stood on the ice, three more subadults flew out to join him - and to look for more scraps.

When nesting, adult Bald eagles are very territorial towards other adults, chasing trespassing adults away post haste. But even nesting adults are somewhat tolerant of younger eagles hanging around in their territory, at least when food is plentiful.

Down the road a ways, the creek is melted and flowing below another eagle nest. And most of the nests on larger lakes already have open water for fishing. But our little lake is still quite frozen. When it finally ices out, there will be plenty of fish available for the catching. Until then, food is a valuable commodity that's worth fighting over.