The Augusta Police Department had a bit of unexpected excitement on Tuesday when two officers were called to a scene where a pair of bald eagles were found on the ground, apparently grasping each other.
In the video, the officers are seen carrying blankets or towels while approaching the ground-bound eagles.
After draping the shrouds over the eagles, both of the birds seen to let go, and both fly away, apparently unscathed.
Erynn Call, a wildlife biologist who serves as the raptor biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said she was away from her desk on Tuesday and did not consult on the Augusta rescue effort.
She did offer some possible reasons for the incident, however.
“What could be happening is that one one adult may be defending [another’s] nest territory,” Call said. “At this point in time, [eagles] are incubating their eggs … they may find themselves in the situation where they’re defending their nests and end up fighting [with another eagle].”
Call said that midair combat is common among eagles.
“Sometimes they might do a talon-clasp in the air and spiral down and end up on the ground,” she said. “[Then, while on the ground], they may not be able to extract themselves, or just be stubborn and keep holding on.”
Call said another possible explanation involves courtship behavior. Although most eagles will have mated by this time in the year — courtship typically happens between late February and early March — there is roughly a 10-week window for eagle mating in Maine, and there’s the possibility that the eagles involved were not fighting, but loving.
“There is some courtship behavior where [typically] earlier in the year there might be clasping talons between males and females,” Call said. “If people were to observe that earlier in the year it could be courtship or evidence of a fight.”
Call said she’d not seen the video, but was pleased at the outcome.
“Its nice that it worked out so well,” she said. “I’m not sure that it would always work [when people put covers over the eagles] because this has happened in the past and it’s been more challenging to get the birds apart.”
But the biologist said she understood why the tactic may have worked.
“It would probably disorient them for a moment, they wouldn’t see the other eagle, and they would relax and fly away,” Call said.