It’s hard enough to rear young, let alone in the wild. Bald eagle eggs and eaglets, especially, are subject to all manner of predators during incubation and beyond. For this Pittsburgh raptor family, however, it’s not just their young in peril.
Seen in the accompanying night-vision footage below, the male of this bald eagle pair has made himself an arch enemy. The shadowy, nocturnal nemesis to his majestic, diurnal self, this great horned owl seems hellbent on removing this papa from his nightly nest watch. Within the nest-cam’s view, the owl can be seen swooping in and tackling the male straight from his perch with blistering speed.
While this may seem surprising, all owls fly silently to near silently due to the remarkable structure of their feathers. This means that no matter how skilled the adversary – they’ll never hear an owl coming before it’s too late.
Such is the case for the male bald eagle, who is sent careening from his next by the owl’s bullseye. The footage, which comes courtesy of Audubon’s partnership with PixCams, shows the titanic struggle in both real-time and slow motion.
His partner and mother to his eggs rises in concern, but quickly sits back atop her clutch in order to protect them. Shortly after, the male returns to his nest – shaken, but unharmed.
WATCH: Great Horned Owl vs Bald Eagle
Hays Eagles Dad on the same night gets knocked off a branch See this one in regular and slow motion. Dad does return to the nest and protests.PixCams
Although the owl’s attack is decidedly vicious, he’s most likely not looking for a meal. Great horned owls will eat eggs, but this fellow would have to be mighty desperate for a meal to take on two bald eagles just for a few morsels.
Instead, it is more likely that the owl is looking to displace the two bald eagles in order to claim their nest. Unlike other species, great horneds typically will not build their own nests. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology clarifies that the species will “usually adopt a nest that was built by another species.”
In addition, great horned owls will also use the cavity of a live tree, dead snags, or cliff ledges. They will even seek out deserted buildings and other human-made constructs before building their own. Quite the opportunists, indeed.
Eagle vs Owl: Who Wins?
As for the matchup between these two titans of their respective raptor families, each is a formidable foe for the other.
The great horned owl is one of the largest owl species on the planet. Their wingspan can touch five feet (152 cm) in length in extreme cases, while large females can stand two feet in height (60 cm). Given their height and unusual girth for an owl (around 4lbs), these apex predators will even prey on other large raptors, with other owls and hawks making up a portion of their diet.
The bald eagle, however, has the upper hand when it comes to size. For one, this large species weighs twice as much as a great horned owl on average – with the smaller males weighing as much as 10 lbs, and females weighing up to 14 lbs. To top it off, these powerful birds of prey can have a staggering 8 foot (244 cm) wingspan.
And so while the great horned owl may be able to take his eagle foe by complete surprise in the dead of night, it’s unlikely he’d be able to overpower a bald eagle unless he manages a miraculous kill-on-contact.
As for our papa baldie above, the Audubon Society has good news: he and all three eaglets made it out alive. The eggs hatched on February 12, 15, and 19.