A few weekends back on Lake Washington, two bald eagles attacked a flock of waterfowl. It was obvious that they were looking for a meal, and most of the water birds took off in a panic. But one little bird, an American coot, didn’t have time to fly. It dove underwater, beyond the eagles’ reach. It was safe — until it ran out of air.
Bald eagles are our national bird: huge, dark raptors with white — but not actually bald — heads. They eat fish, small mammals, and other birds, as well as garbage and carrion. When they don’t feel like hunting, they sometimes snatch food away from ospreys, herons, or human anglers.
But that weekend, the eagles on Lake Washington decided to catch rather than steal their lunch. They soared overhead, and when the coot surfaced, the second eagle swooped toward it. The coot quickly dove again, and when it came back up, the first eagle tried again.
The two eagles took turns attacking the coot for several minutes, never allowing the little bird to fully regain its breath. After a dozen or so dives, the coot was obviously exhausted. It could no longer stay below the surface for more than a few seconds at a time. Eventually, one of the eagles grabbed it and landed on the lake, holding the coot underwater until it drowned. When the eagle flew away with the dead bird in its talons, the other eagle followed, presumably expecting to share the meal.
It’s not too unusual to see a bald eagle on the Hill. These birds can fly long distances, and they regularly pass over the neighborhood in their travels. However, they spend most of their time perched near water. If you want to go out looking, head down to the shores of Lake Washington, Portage Bay, or Lake Union.
Want to learn more?
- Check out the pages for the bald eagle and the American coot at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- The bald eagle has quite an eerie call, which you can hear at the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. The coot’s call sounds a bit like a squeeze toy.
- NPR’s Bird Note once featured a similar story about bald eagles hunting cooperatively.
- Anyone who prefers to view nature via screen can learn more about bald eagles from this PBS documentary.
- If you’re into history, you might like to read Benjamin Franklin’s reasoning for advocating the wild turkey over the bald eagle as our national bird.
The Interlaken Owl
The Interlaken Park family of barred owls has apparently been on hiatus but reader Ellen reports spotting one of the birds on a recent trip to the park and sends along this picture of the roost. Could be worth your time to take a walk this weekend to say a respective, quiet hello. Or hoo. We’ll leave specifics of finding the owl home to you to work out. Enjoy the adventure.
More Capitol Hill Aviary
- Cheers! Hill waxwings get drunk
- Hill chickadees kill their own brain cells
- Flickers empty Hill birdfeeders
Melissa Koosmann is a freelance writer and resident of Capitol Hill. She writes about education, culture, and nature — and, sometimes, birds for CHS.