A camera trap set out for endangered Siberian (Amur) tigers in the Russian Far East photographed something far more rare: a golden eagle capturing a young sika deer.
“I saw the deer carcass first as I approached the trap on a routine check to switch out memory cards and change batteries, but something felt wrong about it. There were no large carnivore tracks in the snow, and it looked like the deer had been running and then just stopped and died.” said lead author Dr. Linda Kerley of ZSL, who runs the camera trap project. “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.”
The scientists underscore that golden eagles do not regularly attack deer, and there is no evidence that such attacks have any impact on deer populations.
Dr. Kerley said, “I’ve been assessing deer causes of death in Russia for 18 years—this is the first time I’ve seen anything like this.
All three images can be seen here. Oh deer! Eagle kills deer in startling glimpse of alpha bird behavior. – CSMonitor.com.
It is not clear how the death blow was achieved or why the bird chose this animal obviously larger than suitable. Was the deer injured or sick? Or did the bird learn some behavior. It’s rare but not unknown.
A golden eagle was reported to have taken a black bear cub in 2004, and there are a handful of reports of eagles attacking people. One such attack happened on Kodiak Island in 1991, where an amateur photographer was talon-slashed by a bald eagle protecting a nest. Another attack by a trained eagle on a child was recorded by a tourist to Mongolia in 2011.
“The circumstances in which these predators are motivated to take on riskier prey is not well understood, but I do think there is recognition by the predator that certain prey are potentially more risky than others,” Fuller says.
What a moment! Game cameras have become invaluable learning tools to capture these snapshot moments. But, as we always ask… where’s Bigfoot/Yeti?
Addition: Golden eagles do regularly attack larger prey.
Tip: Jeb Card