'Shot through the heart': Loon fatally stabs bald eagle in defence of chicks
A loon defends itself against a swooping bald eagle. (Jon Winslow)
TORONTO -- In a never-before documented fatal clash between a bald eagle and a loon protecting its chicks, Canada’s loonie mascot stabbed America’s national bird through the heart.
It’s a wildlife first, according to Courtney Moulton of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Moulton wrote a blog post titled "Bald Eagle Shot Through the Heart – By a Loon!" about the incident this month, saying it excited loon researchers who had never before documented a loon killing an eagle, but plenty of the inverse.
After the dead bald eagle was found floating face-down in Highland Lake in Maine last summer near a dead loon chick, Moulton was “intrigued,” she wrote, adding that a woman in a nearby cabin said she’d heard a “hullabaloo” the night before “consistent with agitated loons.”
“We know conflicts between bald eagles and loons have soared in recent years as a result of the recovery of our eagle population. We are seeing more and more eagle predation on loon chicks and even adult loons. Who would think a loon would stand a chance against such a powerful predator?” she asked in the blog post.
When X-ray returned no evidence of a bullet, but an external exam revealed a puncture wound, researchers sent the bald eagle to the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.
“This puncture wound could have been due to an adult loon’s beak as a result of its attempt to protect its chick from the eagle,” wrote Moulton, adding that marks consistent with the spacing of eagle talons were found on the loon chick.
“A loon’s best weapon is its dagger-like bill, and it will often attack adversary loons by coming up from beneath the water’s surface with its bill straight towards the other loon’s sternum, or chest. Many adult loons have several healed-over sternal punctures from fights like these.”
In Wisconsin, researchers determined the wound was similar in size to a loon’s bill and showed fatal precision:
“[I]t extended straight to the heart which likely led to a quick death,” wrote Moulton.