Tooth and Nail: Can eagles fly away with pets and kids?

Eagles snatching up children and small pets and farm animals stretches back in folklore as long as there have been folk to lore about it.

The truth is somewhat different, however.

On Jan. 4, The Morning Call ran an Associated Press article detailing how an 8 pound, bichon frisé dog named Zoey was snatched up by an eagle. The event along the Lehigh River near Bowmanstown, Pa., was witnessed by Felipe Rodriguez, the brother of the owner, from about 50 feet away.

The family scoured the neighborhood looking for the 7-year-old dog to no avail. Of course, they were devastated.

Local wildlife officials said it is not uncommon to have numerous migrating raptors along the Lehigh River this time of year. They also said it is not uncommon to see them with a meal in their talons, although it is usually fish or rabbits.

Fortunately, the dog was found later in the day some 4 miles from its yard. A concerned citizen spotted it, dazed, confused and half frozen but intact. Zoey’s collar was gone, and she walked with a limp with several wounds on her back and neck.

Christina Hartman fed the dog some soup and was determined to find the owner. Instead of driving around a neighborhood or checking classified ads, Hartman took to Facebook and, sure enough, found owner Monica Newhard’s posting. Zoey and Newhard were reunited shortly.

As for Zoey, the article quotes her owner as saying, “She is not really herself, but she is getting lots of love . She doesn’t want to go out. I really can’t blame her.”

The article reminded me of some reading I’d done in high school physics regarding the lifting power of eagles and other raptors.

Let’s be generous and take a 12-pound bald eagle for example. First off, the wings have to lift the bird’s weight. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of lifting capacity.

Given this example, from a stop, the bird might be able to lift five pounds. But what about when the bird puts on some swooping airspeed?

Clocking along at 20 to 30 miles per hour in a dive, biologist Ron Clarke, who completed his master’s degree studying birds of prey, said, “On a wide-open beach, I have no doubt that an eagle with a full head of steam could pick up a six- or eight-pound dog and just keep on going.”

His remarks were published in an Alaska Fish and Wildlife News report by Riley Woodford. Also in the report, Woodford quotes Mike Jacobson, a retired eagle management specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who spent decades observing the birds.

“There used to be stories about eagles carrying off babies and little kids, and none of that has ever been documented,” he said. “They can pick up and carry four or five pounds, maximum, and actually fly off with it. They can lift a little more and hop it along, but they can’t carry it off.”

More recently, people who watch eagle nests have reported seeing cat collars in them and, in one case ,a baby rattle. But none of that proves a kitten was snatched up much less an actual infant. And no one says they have witnessed a cat or human cadaver in a nest.

Eagles mostly hunt fish less than 8 inches long and small mammals, according to experts, and they opportunistically eat carrion. So, if you head out to watch the eagles at Coeur d’Alene Lake, feel free to take along any kittens, kids and puppies, and chalk up the Lehigh River story as, well, interesting.

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

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