Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cartwheels In The Sky!

Two bald eagles surveyed Union Bay, from the top of a cottonwood near the Waterfront Activities Center, early Tuesday morning. Their calm acceptance of each other and their apparent need for companionship, seemed like the behavior of a mated pair. It made me wonder if we might not be adding another set of resident bald eagles on Union Bay. However, on closer inspection, their plumage indicated otherwise.

The eagle on the left still has traces of its dark juvenile beak showing through the yellow. In addition the iris of its eye is darker than the yellow of a mature eagle. Plus the head and tail are not completely white.

The eagle on the right looks a bit older. It has more yellow on both the beak and the eye and the breast is mostly dark, but the head is also not fully white.

When the bird, on the right, stretched its tail and wing, it became obvious that the tail is not completely white either. I am guessing these eagles are 3 or 4 years old.

The righthand eagle's immaturity was also obvious in flight.

The eye stripe looked almost comical, like a flying raccoon.

On the other hand, the claws are nothing to laugh at.

Lately, there has been a influx of immature eagles around Union Bay. Almost two weeks ago, this bird was seen perched above Arboretum Creek. I suspect it is younger than the eagles in the previous photos, due to the darker beak and less white on the head and tail.

Last Saturday, three young eagles with dark beaks and dark eyes visited Cottonwood Downs, on the southeast side of Foster Island.

With very little white on their heads and tails, and lots of white speckling on the bodies and wings, these birds appeared to be fairly young, 

I am guessing they are first or second year birds.

When a more mature eagle tried to scare one of them away, the three young ones turned the tables on the older bird, who settled for a perch further to the west. This older eagle appears to be more mature than all of the eagles we have seen so far. Still, the hint of darkness about the head and tail feathers, makes me think it may be newly mature e.g. in its first adult plumage.

I believe these sightings indicate the presence of 5 or 6 immature eagles, in addition to the eagle above. Hopefully, Union Bay is becoming a winter feeding and congregation site for immature bald eagles. Since these counts do not include the mature nesting eagles on Union Bay, like Eva and Albert, we may currently have as many as a dozen different eagles around Union Bay.

After an hour or so the eagle on the left, in our initial photo, relocated to one of the sequoia trees behind the Activity Center.

 The eagle's presence seemed to disturb the crows.

While the crows harassed the young eagle, a fully mature eagle landed on the top of the other sequoia tree, to the east.

Surprisingly, the younger eagle decided to switch perches and rushed the older eagle. Since the mature eagle looks smaller, I believe it is a male. 

The older, lighter and more agile bird chased after the crows before returning to the top of the other sequoia tree. Note: The tree with the larger cones is a Great Sequoia while the one with the smaller cones, to the east, is a Coastal Sequoia.

 Sadly, this did not stop the crows from harassing the younger eagle.

 The younger eagle gave up on the perch and headed south.

 As the eagle flew towards Montlake Cut, it watched another eagle approach.

Suddenly, the eagles grasp talons and the cartwheeling began.  If this is a courtship display the younger bird seemed decidedly unimpressed. Possibly, the fragment of feather on the older eagle's talon had something to do with the younger bird's apparent anxiety.

 (There was no time to cross The Cut for more favorable lighting.)

At this point the more mature bird rotated to the top. There are still a few visible tinges of darkness on the older bird's tail feathers, which presumably indicates its first adult plumage. This could be the same eagle seen on Saturday, on Foster Island.

 The cartwheeling continues.

The older bird dives toward the water. I have heard, once locked in each other's grasp, the birds may not let go until after they hit the ground.

Given how often the younger bird has its beak open, I suspect it was voicing a dissenting opinion through the whole operation. Once the talons are locked, I wonder if both birds must release their grip, before they are actually free from one another.

 They cartwheeled ever closer to The Cut.

 Twisting and turning as they descend.

 Eagles playing, Chicken in the Sky.

What if only one bird lets go?

Finally they parted ways.

The older bird circled and chased the younger one to the south before returning to perch on one of the sequoias. If this bird is searching for its first mate, apparently, it is still looking. I am hoping the process takes awhile and we get to see more of these courtship displays above Union Bay.


By the way if you missed last week's post from Dan, Craig and Joy, it is a very informative and enjoyable read, regarding Rufous Hummingbirds.


Also, last Saturday, I once again saw the tagged cormorant, ER4, at The Cut. This is the same bird seen early in February in the post, When the Fog Lifts.


The answer to last week's challenge is, the magnolia tree Magnolia Acuminate is commonly called the Cucumber TreeI hope you enjoyed the challenge.


Finally, as of this morning the Lichen is leading the Blossoms by a vote of 8 to 4. This is in regards to the question, Which of the next two photos do you like best?


I am curious if living in the pacific northwest causes us to prefer the lichen or the blossoms. I lean towards liking the lichen, but don't let that sway your vote. The voting is still open...

Have a great day on Union Bay…where nature cartwheels through the sky!



  1. What a fabulous series of shots of those two eagles! I have yet to witness a scene like that, let alone photograph it. Nice work.

    1. Thank you! It is amazing how nature comes to our "backyard", if we are paying attention.

  2. Wow, great photos Larry!!

    1. Thank you! I sure wish I could have moved the sun or just teleported myself to a location with better lighting. Actually, I feel very lucky just to have seen the display at all.

  3. Magnificent - thank you for capturing this for us!

    1. You are welcome. It was amazing. I hope we see more of the same around Union Bay!

  4. These are fantastic photos! Thank you for posting Larry.

  5. Wow, amazing shots Larry! It must be "Crow harassing Eagle" season, because yesterday driving north on 228th in Sammamish I saw an impressively large wingspan coming down the corridor of trees toward me. As it got closer, I could see that it was a mature Bald Eagle with a pesky crow buzzing a few feet above it.

    I've seen crows also swooping repeatedly at hawks on lamp posts. They don't seem to pay them any attention. Do the crows' attacks ever get more serious than attempted intimidation?

    1. I am pretty sure the crows get more aggressive when nesting and when they have young, which covers a lot of the year. I don't think they can seriously harm larger, predatory birds, but I suspect that they regularly knock out parts of their primary feathers. The osprey on my masthead photo is actually being harassed by a number of crows and I would guess the missing bit of feathers in the third primary on your left is the work of a crow. You can see similar feather loss in the last eagle photo in the blog above. I do not believe these really hurt the larger birds but I do think it forces them to expend more energy to overcome the loss of functional surface/lifting area. We are seeing more and more cooper's hawks in the city, which will chase crows and maybe very capable of taking them down. I suspect, but have no proof, that crows have taken advantage of the multiple food sources we provide and the lack of predators to expand way beyond historic numbers. Maybe the cooper's hawks will someday shift the balance so that crows in the city occur with close to the same frequency that they do away from the city.

  6. Great info, thanks for sharing!