Eagles and coyotes and harriers, oh my! Winter has finally arrived and the solstice is almost here. As the ice begins to thicken, coyotes step out on to the Mississippi river. The ice is easier to travel than the underbrush next to the river and is, in the middle of a highly populated area, quite remote. Coyotes can move around, access new food resources, travel relatively unbothered, and chase Northern harriers in broad daylight. Mr. North and DNF are deep into eagle courtship and enjoying a few (relatively) calm days after a huge pulse of eagles came through ahead of the storm on Saturday. Don’t miss the lovely North video if you enjoy watching eagle ‘flirting’: pecking, mutual body brushing, gentle nibbling, and…mutual vent feather lowering? We’re reaching to our eagle experts on that behavior! And finally, it was great to see Mom Decorah stop at N1 for a quick fresh fishy pick-me-up just before dusk. She must have been very hungry – there were no other eagles that we could see or hear, but I’ve seldom seen her eat a fish so quickly!
Thanks to our camera operators and video makers for finding such special moments, and to all of you for watching, sharing, learning, and especially for caring. I can’t believe how fortunate we are to see so deeply into the lives of the wildlife and wild places that we love.
December 13, 2021: Coyote chasing Northern harrier – https://youtu.be/D-AmFD0a8vA. The video begins with a coyote trotting across the ice. It looks around alertly – see how it stands erect, ears up, and appears to sniff deeply? – before breaking into a run at 1:04. We lose sight of it, but see a harrier take off in the distance at 1:27. The coyote stops at 1:35, the harrier lands on the snag behind it, and the two ignore one another until 2:40. The coyote bounds into the vegetation, the harrier circles out and lands again, the coyote circles through the vegetation, and the harrier takes off again. We see it on the snag at 3:43. The coyote trots by at 4:24, explores the base of a popular eagle snag, and heads back on to the ice.
What’s going on? Coyotes will eat birds, but an uninjured adult bird is almost impossible to catch. Both could have been looking for prey: perhaps the harrier alerted the coyote to a possible dinner. Coyotes and harriers have a big overlap in their diets, and could cue off one another when looking for food – not really a symbiotic relationship, but not a predator/prey relationship either. Read more about coyotes, ravens, and crows here: https://coyoteyipps.com/tag/competition-for-resources/.
Watch at 3:19 and you’ll get a glimpse of the harrier’s dihedral flight. Harriers are long grass hunters, which is why we see them on the Flyway this time of the year. They hunt for voles, mice, shrews, rabbits, and rats by quartering low over the ground in a slow soar. Their dihedral flight conserves power and is relatively silent compared to power flapping. This is important, since a harrier, unique among diurnal birds of prey, has an owl-like facial disk that helps it to locate prey acoustically.
December 12, 2021: Hello Mom! Mom Decorah stops by N1 for a quick pick-me-up.
December 12, 2021: Mom brings a snack to N1 – https://youtu.be/fpXIQJYvGhA. The video opens facing west from N1 as the sun sinks. We see an eagle fly in at 1:08 (look low and to center). It’s Mom! She perches in N1, vocalizes, peels off her fish-flops, and gulps down dinner, barely stopping to slice, dice, or scale. After she finishes (in less than two minutes!) she nibbles at her talons and flies out.
Decorah North Eagles
December 14, 2021: Mr. North and DNF. Watch in the early morning for the best chance of seeing them live. The early bird gets the stick!
December 13, 2021: DNF and Mr. North, stunning in black and white – https://youtu.be/8to4nMorRNg. Wow! I liked this whole video, but I especially enjoyed it when Mr. North flew in at 1:32. He greets DNF and steps into the nest, giving her gentle nibble on the way. The two of them dig in the nest together and brush up against one another. Check especially the interaction at 2:38: DNF nibbles at Mr. North, the two brush chests, and – look beneath their tails, where they appear to be lowering their vent feathers at the same time. This looks like flirting to me! Mr. North flies out at 3:11 and DNF joins him on the Love Branch at 4:44. The two continue to peck at once another and DNF works at a twig.
What is going on with their vent feathers? I reached out to eagle expert Brett Mandernack and breeder Jim Robison. We’ll see what they have to say!