A bald eagle found dead in Maine last year was killed by a vicious peck from a loon, according to the results of a recent autopsy by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
Wildlife biologist Danielle D’Auria shared the shocking results of her find on the department’s website earlier this week, in what she said was an extremely unusual case. She says bald eagles are known to prey on loon chicks and the occasional adult, but experts have never before seen evidence of a loon taking down an eagle.
“Who would think a loon would stand a chance against such a powerful predator?” D’Auria wrote in a blog post.
Wildlife officials recovered the dead bald eagle from a lake in Bridgton, Maine, last July. They also found a dead loon chick near the eagle’s body, and one witness reported hearing a loud “hullabaloo” from the loons outside her cabin around the time it happened. No one actually saw the eagle’s death.
It’s illegal for humans to shoot bald eagles in the U.S., and a game warden initially suspected that this eagle had been shot in the chest.
However, a radiograph found no evidence of metal inside the dead eagle’s body, prompting experts to suspect that a clever loon might have delivered the killing blow with its beak while trying to defend its young.
“The size of the puncture wound was similar to the size of a loon’s bill, and it extended straight to the heart, which likely led to a quick death,” D’Auria wrote.
She added that “such a case has not been documented before,” but loon-eagle conflicts have become more common as the bald eagles’ population has grown.
Loons have sharp, pointed bills, and they will often use them in fights with one another, she explained. The birds will dive beneath the water and then come surging up toward the surface to puncture a foe’s chest.
“A loon’s best weapon is its dagger-like bill,” D’Auria wrote. “You can use your imagination to formulate how this all played out.”