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Carrion a Vital Food Source for Bald Eagles

3-1-16 eagle3 036Eagles obtain food mainly in three ways — by direct capture, scavenging for carrion and stealing food from other birds and mammals. When securing their own live prey, they hunt from perches or soar over suitable habitat, taking most prey on the wing. Bald eagles’ preferred food is live fish, but they are opportunistic foragers that select prey based on availability. Twenty studies from across their range found that the composition of bald eagle diets averaged the following: fish-56%; birds-28%; mammals-14%; and other 2%.

In addition to capturing live prey, eagles rely heavily on fish, bird and mammal carrion, especially during the winter. Ice fishermen’s leftover bait and/or rejected catches, roadkills and deer that have slipped and died on ice-covered ponds and lakes are three heavily-used sources of food at this time of year. If the carrion is small enough, it is often carried to a perch (see opossum in photo) where it is inconspicuously consumed. Larger carrion, such as white-tailed deer, salmon and waterfowl, that are too big to carry off, are eaten on site and repeatedly visited until consumed.

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9 responses

  1. Paul Roberts

    What perhaps amazes me most about eagles’ prey is seeing them pursue and take gray squirrels, especially in very cold winters when most of the local lakes freeze over. Up to a half dozen or so winter in an affluent suburban setting with large oaks and mixed woods and large yards. Eagles will take squirrels on the ground or pull them off a lower tree trunk.

    March 1, 2016 at 7:10 am

  2. shielaswett

    WOW, what a great photo you took of that Bald Eagle flying along with the remains of an opossum!! HOW did you capture that one, mary? Were you up a tree, almost at his level? Impressive!!!

    March 1, 2016 at 8:23 am

    • Thanks, Shiela, for appreciating my good fortune. I was on the ground as it flew by – a lot of luck was involved!

      March 1, 2016 at 8:57 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    On the coast of Maine, since the crash of the groundfish, eagles eat mostly seabirds. If you rummage through the detritus under an eagle nest, it is predominantly bird bones. This is a big problem on the offshore nesting islands. Eagles can flap out there and prey on helpless chicks of sea ducks, cormorants, and other nesting birds, or scare the parents off the nest. Puffins and other burrow or crevice nesters are not nearly as much at risk as those birds whose nests face the open sky. Great cormorants, which are at the southern edge of their breeding region in Maine, have been almost eradicated by eagles.

    March 1, 2016 at 8:47 am

  4. Impressive capture, Mary!

    March 1, 2016 at 1:43 pm

  5. Susan Holland

    What a great photograph! well done!

    March 1, 2016 at 10:51 pm

  6. Amazing photo!

    March 2, 2016 at 9:08 am

  7. Jane Swift

    Unfortunately, the ingestion of carrion by at least two bald eagles in our northcentral Pennsylvania location has resulted in death by lead intoxication (as determined by PA Game Commission biologists).

    March 15, 2016 at 1:47 pm

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