Golden Eagle vs. Sika Deer
The golden eagle is a mighty powerful bird of prey. So powerful in fact that it has been linked to attack not only rabbits, squirrels, and other birds, but large mammals like deer and even bear cubs! And lucky for us, new evidence has captured one of these attacks on camera.
During a routine survey with remote camera traps that was set up to study Siberian tigers in the Russian Far East, a golden eagle was observed attacking and killing a 7-month old sika deer, which weighed approximately 88-100 pounds.
In a paper published Monday in the Journal of Raptor Research, Linda Kerley of the Zoological Society of London and Jonathan Slaght of the Wildlife Conservation Society unveiled these stunning images which confirm avian attacks.
"In 11 [years] of our investigations of ungulate kills in the southern Russian Far East, this is the first time we observed evidence of a Golden Eagle killing any deer species, despite locating hundreds of carcasses during that time and assessing cause of death," the authors wrote.
The fact that evidence of this kind of predation is so rare, the scientists write, likely means that eagles see this as an "opportunistic" attack.
In a statement, Kerley said they first came upon the carcass during a routine camera check and she immediately knew something was odd.
"There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died," Kerley said. "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."
With talons that can exert approximately 440 pounds per square inch of pressure, the deer was no match for it’s predator.
Slaght stated: "We can speculate that the deer just dropped of stress, but there is precedent for golden eagles actually killing large ungulates," he said.
For example, a 2005 paper in the Western North American Naturalist found strong evidence that a golden eagle killed a pronghorn when researchers observed a golden eagle in the vicinity of a freshly killed 60-pound pronghorn. Turns out, the carcass did not have any bite marks, but had puncture marks consistent with the type made by talons.
"I would assume something like that is the most likely scenario here," Slaght said about the sika deer attack. He added: "Birds of prey usually use their talons to kill. They don't want to risk eye injury by going after something still alive with their beaks."
Despite the reality behind other social media clips of birds attacking and picking up dogs or even children, one thing is for sure, do not estimate the power of the golden eagle!
Read more at NPR.
Eagle attacking deer image via Wildlife Conservation Society.