Back in January, when I was enjoying my attendance at the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival down in Titusville, Florida, I had an enchanting encounter with our national bird, the Bald Eagle. The setting was the Viera Wetlands, a marvelous location that uses the ultimate waste product, sewage, and turns its processing into an incredibly rich wetland environment chock full of a variety of birds, an environment that is also greatly appreciated by a host of birders, photographers, and general nature lovers.

(Just a warning – there are some pretty graphic pictures and a video coming up. If you’d like not to see such things please click through here and see some pretty pictures that don’t involve dismemberment.)

Bald Eagle perched

And where there is a lot of wildlife there will also be other wildlife that shows up to eat the original wildlife. Such was the case with the Bald Eagle that I spotted. It was alternating between perching on a series of old, dead, tree stubs and doing its best to hover over some thick marsh vegetation. I figured that it must have spotted something good to eat there so I parked my car and starting digiscoping. Considering that Bald Eagles are known for their scavenging I thought that I would soon see it grab a dead fish or something and then land back on the stub where it would eat it.

Bald Eagle hovering

Here the eagle hovers over the marsh, staring intently at something. It is doing the same thing in the image at the top of the post.

Bald Eagle coming in for a landing

And here the eagle, after having hovered over the marsh for awhile, comes back to a convenient perch.

After several repetitions of this behavior the eagle finally dropped into the marsh and stayed down for at least thirty seconds. When it came back out I was surprised that it was carrying a Blue-winged Teal. But I wasn’t as surprised as the teal, which was still alive!

Bald Eagle carrying Blue-winged Teal

I imagine the teal was thinking some pretty unhappy things at this point.

The eagle flew up to another palm stub and proceeded to pluck, dismember, and eat the teal. Remember, the teal was still alive. I have no idea at what point the victim was actually dead, but it can’t have been a pleasant way to go.

Bald Eagle plucking a Blue-winged Teal

I can’t imagine being plucked alive can feel good. Also, note the eagle’s nictating membranes protecting its eyes from damage.

Bald Eagle

At this point I am pretty sure the teal was dead. If not, it definitely was by the time the video below is over. (Only watch the video if you want to see a duck decapitation.)

While this might not be the most pleasant of wildlife encounters it was amazing to watch. And it is only one of the many spectacles you can see if you go to the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival this coming January. I hope to see you (and lots of birds) there!

10,000 Birds is a Scrub-Jay Level Sponsor of the 18th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival – January 21-26, 2015, Titusville Florida


Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.