Text and photos Maie Vikerpuur
A deluge of eagles
On Sunday, 22.03, I wanted to go out to photograph cormorants.
Here in Hiiumaa we had -7 degrees and the Käina strait was covered by a thin ice crust. The morning swans were still asleep and geese stood dozing on the ice. Cormorants were already bustling back and forth; on the ice at the left edge of the ”cormorant isle” larger shapes could be seen. I took a look by binoculars – they were white-tailed eagles. They were busy at a black shape but took flight on noticing the observer. A few moments later the black shape stood up – it was a cormorant but it didn’t have the strength to fly.
Alerted by the struggling of the cormorant the eagles returned – the prey was getting away. To start with 3-4 birds, then 5-6 white-tailed eagles. All were white-speckled young birds; the sixth arrival took over the prey from the others. But the ice that had formed during the night was thin, the owner of the prey sank through the ice with the cormorant. The others watched the struggle: the eagle did get up, cormorant carcass in talons, then eating started.
The photo shows that one of the audience got something in the beak too. Now they were already seven. And again the ice cracked under the eater! Fortunately this eagle too escaped with the prey from the ”dip”. An eighth white-tailed eagle arrived and landed close to the eater. Of course a fight broke out over the morning meal – seven observers and two fighters.
It was already 11.17 a m, and now both combatants sank through the ice. From left an observer hurried closer. To help, or for food? The new arrival, a white-tailed eagle, won the cormorant for himself and started tearing at the food. Now fifteen eagles were in place already when the white-tailed adult bird in turn went down through the ice with the cormorant – another cold bath, but it crawled out, cormorant remnants in beak. And the ice broke again! The strong adult bird got out this time too, using its talons to drag the cormorant carcass away from the ice hole.
The other white-tailed eagles waited in a long queue – maybe there would be something for them too. And another dousing! I already thought that now the other eagles will have freshly drowned ”eagle steak”, but the victorious adult bird got out this time too although at one time only its head was above the water surface. The Käina bay is so shallow, maybe the feet of the bird touched bottom?
According to my count the eagles were submerged nine times in all with the prey! Maybe it was the revenge of the cormorant for its life. Altogether twenty white-tailed eagles were looking for a share of this rather small prey (in the photo 16 are visible, some stand behind the others). This eagle watch was awesome!
Thanks for sending this mighty observation! It seems that the eagles like the Käina cormorant colony very much, and it may be that the cormorants soon have to look for more peaceful living quarters. Perhaps this was the reason too why the largest cormorant colony, at the Väinamere Tondirahu, suddenly was abandoned by the cormorants? – Comment by Mati Kose in the bird enthusiast list.