eagle encounter

Finn and I were enjoying an early morning run through Kirkland yesterday. It was just after 7:00 am, barely light. We turned onto a residential street with a park and Lake Washington on the west side, houses on the east. As soon as we started north on the sidewalk near the houses, several crows circled around us and cawed angrily. "What? What did we do?" I thought to myself. Finn hadn't even tried to startle the crows! "They must be fighting over food," I muttered to Finn.

Then a huge bird swooped right overhead - within ten feet, like a huge shadow, close enough that I saw large, yellow talons flexing open and heard the wind under his fully extended wings - down toward some roadkill in the middle of the street.

I turned to watch the large, adult bald eagle attempt to pick up the flattened squirrel, but miss. As he regained altitude, the crows dive-bombed him relentlessly, screaming at him.

The eagle landed at the top of a tree in a nearby yard and waited. Crows and smaller birds swirled around him, but he seemed oblivious.

I waited, too. I wasn't going to miss this show for the world. Finn was willing to watch the scene unfold as well. He sat next to me, leash slack. I hadn't even asked him to sit. He seemed to understand that calm and quiet were required. After a few seconds, I asked him to walk with me a few feet up the sidewalk so that we were another 20 feet from the roadkill. I didn't want the eagle to feel crowded.

After a minute or so, the eagle made another attempt at breakfast. He took off from the tree top, circled around twice to set up his path, then glided down, wings huge and wide and swooshing over me as he slowed his descent. Clearly he felt an approach from the north was to his advantage. Again I couldn't help focusing on his talons, so big, so...intimidating. This time, he got his talons on the roadkill, but it was so flattened to the road, he couldn't get enough purchase to lift it. The crows dive-bombed him again, squawking loudly.

The eagle rose to the top of a street light post and rested. While he waited, three crows landed around the roadkill and started picking at it. One caught a bit in his beak, and lifted the entire carcass up off the pavement an inch, then dropped it. "Good," I thought. "Now the eagle can grab it." I was definitely rooting for the eagle.

Just then, a car turned onto the street. The crows surrounding the roadkill reluctantly flew away as the car approached, but waited so long that the driver noticed and drove way around, avoiding ironing the squirrel to the pavement yet again.

The eagle saw his chance. Just as the car passed by, he took off, circled once, swooped down fast in front of me and Finn without even glancing our way, and with one quick braking wing movement to stall directly over the roadkill, grabbed it in his talons while immediately starting his ascent.


With the roadkill firmly in his talons, he flapped his wings hard, turning toward the lake. Gaining altitude slowly now with big sweeping motions of his wings, as if the roadkill weighed as much as a big salmon, crows tormenting him the entire way, he landed at the top of a tall, leafless maple. Ignoring (taunting?) the angry crows, he picked at his prize, the meal he'd stolen from them.

What a show. How lucky I felt to observe it so closely. What a great way to start the day.