Bald Eagle Caught In Viral Video: NPR
Bald eagles are typically known for their elegant flying, skilled hunting and having such majestic strength and beauty that they became the U.S. national bird. But they also have a lesser-known talent: swimming.
Yes, bald eagles are really good at swimming, and some of us learned this week from and viral video published by New Hampshire TV station WMUR.
In it, a bald eagle's white head bobs rhythmically through the water. Occasionally and the wing can be seen as the bird does an avian equivalent of the butterfly stroke. It moves quickly and gracefully through the water, covering a considerable distance before it reaches the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee. It calmly strides onto the land, shaking the water from its feathers before it strikes a watchful, picturesque pose.
The video was shot by Tyler Blake, who spotted the display early in the morning before heading to his construction job.
"I ran down to the docks and I saw an eagle flapping in the water," Blake told WMUR. "I'm like, 'Wow!' "”
In fact, eagle researcher Jim Watson of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says" swimming is not a good thing. "
That's because bald eagles are open-water foragers, catching fish straight out of rivers and lakes. Typically, they will spot fish on the surface of the water and divebomb down, talons outstretched. Watson says that usually, they snatch the fish off the surface while keeping their feathers relatively dry, then fly back into the air with a delicious meal.
But sometimes, that hunting maneuver gets a bit more complicated.
"It may have gone as planned, they just got a bigger fish and said, 'I'm going to stick with this, I can make it to shore and so it's a good deal,'" Watson says. Or, the bird might have missed the fish and ended up in the water.
Either way, the eagle needs to start swimming, because "their feathers get soaked and they can not fly away," Watson says. "Eagles Adopt Baby Red-Tailed Hawk, Putting Aside Violent"
If it catches a large fish, Watson says the eagle can actually grip the fish with its talons as it gracefully swims to the shore.
This one does not seem to have a fish, though, probably meaning that it either missed or released the fish. And even though an eagle swimming is not necessarily a sign of distress because they are capable swimmers, Watson says there have been cases of eagles drowning.
"It takes a lot of energy to swim in the water," he says. "It's a natural flying motion … it's more difficult to do that in the water."
Eagles have strong chest muscles from flying. Just like the butterfly stroke, Watson says, "They actually use the wing tips and push down in the water with their wings."
This is not the first time a bald eagle has been caught on video swimming. Here's a video posted on YouTube of an eagle swimming in Alaska in 2011 shows another angle of the animal's powerful movements: