Why Bald Eagles Fight

Why Bald Eagles Fight


         I was reading a story about two Bald Eagles that locked talons and got stuck in a tree and neither would give up. This caused animal control to be called to get them out of the tree taking two people to get one talon open.    It got me to find out more about Bald Eagles. This is what I uncovered.

     On occasion Bald Eagles will fight to steel food from another. Mostly the Bald Eagles will fight to protect their nesting or breeding territory.  They also fight to protect their young. Their mating ritual also seems to be a fight between the male and female.

The Bald Eagles Nesting Territory

Th Bald Eagle is very territorial when it comes to their nesting territory. They select their nesting territory based upon an evaluation of food supply, suitable nesting and perching trees usually large trees in a protected area that is isolated from excessive human behavior near water. These are usually near where they themselves fledged as youngsters. They tend to use tall, sturdy conifers that protrude above the forest canopy, providing easy flight access and good visibility. 


   After they choose their nesting territory, they will mark it by flying together as a pair around their territory.


The sizes of the Bald Eagles territory depend on the abundance of food in that area.  In areas with abundant food resources, a territory might be quite small, with other eagles nesting as close as a mile away. 


Bald Eagles return to their nesting territory every year building the nest bigger and more comfortable make enhancements for their eggs. Unless something happens to the tree than they will find another spot in their territory as long there is a suitable spot, if there isn’t a suitable spot in that territory then they will look for another territory. An example would be if there was a fire and their territory was destroyed.


     The Bald Eagle’s nest average size is 4 to 5 feet in diameter, and 2 to 4 feet deep.

   Bald Eagles will vigorously protect their nesting territory from intruders and other eagles.



The Bald Eagles Mating Rituals

The Bald Eagle mates for life, unless one partner dies early or doesn’t return to the nest, then they will find another mate.


   But when it comes to courtship the Bald Eagles put the wild in wildlife.

     The Bald Eagles engage in several courtship rituals as the pair build their intimate bond with each other. One of the courtship rituals is one of the most famous and recognizable of these rituals is the “cartwheel courtship flight,” in which they call to each other and then fly up high and clasp talons and get into a cartwheel spin. Hanging on until the last minute before they hit the ground and let go and fly off. But sometimes they hit the ground.

  A courting pair of Bald Eagles may also engage in a chase display, where they will chase each other before clasping talons and doing aerial rolls. In addition, the birds may also perform the “rollercoaster flight.”   During which one of the eagles will essentially act like a rollercoaster, it will fly high up and then go into a steep dive, and then pull up high again and dive down again.


     The pair will also work together to collect materials to build their nest for their young chicks, starting with         the largest branches and slowly working in smaller pieces.  Sometimes the male will gather the materials and give them to the female to construct the nest.  Sometimes they both construct the nest together as they collect the material as a form of bonding.  The final piece of the nest is the lining made of grasses, corn husks, pine straw and other soft materials, and an egg cup composed of fine plant material to act as insulation for the egg.  In all it takes a couple of months for them to build the nest.  They will build the nest much quicker if the area is getting crowded with other birds.

    As the pair of eagles gets close to copulating, they will ramp down their aerial displays and focus on more intimate behaviors, such as sitting shoulder to shoulder, sitting in the nest structure together, preening and calling to on another.   When the female is ready, she will solicit the male to mate with her by calling to him and bowing.  The male will climb on the female’s back and align his cloaca (reproductive orifice) with hers to transfer sperm.  The pair may copulate several times a day during the breeding season, and the male will stay with the female to swap off incubating the eggs and raise the eaglets.

How Do Bald Eagles Fight

As Bald Eagle populations and grow, and shrinking habitats have led to more frequent, and more intensely fierce, struggles over territories, causing more sightings of stuck together Bald Eagles.


Like Aerial wrestlers, male Bald Eagles grapple talon – to talon. Squawking, and tumbling through the air. The birds usually break free as they fall, but occasionally their talons become locked together and the birds smash to the ground, roads or on to trees. These fights are more common in late winter when they are preparing to mate.


      In the beginning of the flight they can be a warn squawk, but one of them will try to fly higher circling each other each other trying to get the advantage over their opponent. Sometimes the male and female will tag team the intruding eagle.

         The top one will stretch out his talons and the bottom one will roll over   stretching his talons upwards. They lock talons and it is a tug of war spinning furiously, like a game of chicken.  Then when let go soar high for another attack until the intruding eagle leaves or dies.  Sometimes the talons get stuck then they come crashing down.  Sometimes one bird is seriously injured and sometimes they're just stunned, other times they may fight until one or both birds die. 

     Sometimes, the birds are so focused on their struggle that they don't realize they've landed in a parking lot — or in a tree above a house.  Sometimes getting stuck in a tree as neither will let go. 


Bald Eagle’s Talons

A Bald Eagle’s legs and toes need to be strong with a powerful grip to grasp and carry live fish.  Bald Eagles have talons and no feathers on their legs.  Bald Eagle doesn’t have feathers on their legs because they prey on fish; feather on their legs would drag on them, slowing them down.

  A Bald Eagle’s foot is made up of four muscular toes, powerful enough to hang onto a fairly large fish as the Bald Eagle carries it through the air.   The strong muscles in their legs, that when contracted clamp the tendons in the lower legs and toes down, closing all the talons together in a vice like grip.


    The four toes each with a very serious claw called a talon. Three toes are face in forward part of the foot face forward but close backwoods, a fourth the hallux toe is on the back of the foot that faces backwoods but close forward to aid in gripping prey. The hallux talon is always longer then the other 3 talons.  In the female the hallux is longer than the males. This is one way to tell the gender of the Bald Eagle.   These hallux talons are almost 2 inches long on the female and about an inch and a quarter on the males.  These talons are capable of exerting force of 1000 pounds of pressure per square inch.  The talons are similar to a dog’s nails. These talons are sickle shaped and razor sharp. Upon spotting a fish, the Bald Eagle will swoop down and grab it with their sharp talons.  When an eagle makes contact with its prey, the force of the impact drives the back talon into the side of the victim as the other three encircle it. These talons are good for hunting and as defense for the Bald Eagle. A Bald Eagle is a raptor, a raptor by definition is a carnivorous medium- to large-sized bird and like other raptor, Bald Eagles feet close through a ratcheting mechanism, which enables them to tightly grasp a struggling snake or rabbit.  But once an eagle closes its claws, it can have a hard time opening them — and that is how the eagles can become stuck together.

They get excited and scared and their feet start tensing up and they can't release, then they come crashing down. Sometimes one bird is seriously injured and sometimes they're just stunned, other times they may fight until one or both birds die. 


  • Conclusion

     For what I have found out a Bald Eagle fights to steal food, to protect their nesting Territory rights and their young and their mating ritual also seems to be a fight between the male and female. I would not want to be grasped by the Bald Eagles talons.