Thursday, November 13, 2014

Round-up Time

Anyone who has watched an old John Wayne movie knows that you can’t have a movie about the old west without at least one cattle round-up. 

Humpback whales feeding on the fish they have rounded up (photo: Gay Schroer) 
Likewise, if you’ve watched any Nature documentaries about whales, you are probably familiar with the Humpback Whale’s bubble net feeding behavior.  This is when a pod of Humpback whales swims in circles around a school of baitfish, blowing a “net” of bubbles to round up their quarry.  When they get the baitfish herded together into a “ball” the whales explode to the surface from below the school of fish, with wide open jaws acting like a scoop--a fish round-up so to speak.

Bald Eagle soaring (photo: Gay Schroer)
A few weeks ago my husband and his buddy were fishing at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri when they were witness to another kind of round-up.  They were fishing on a part of the lake where my husband has frequently seen a pair of Bald Eagles hunting and (in the spring) courting.  We believe this is a resident pair that nests close by, although so far we have not been able to spot the nest due to the dense tree growth in this area.  

A raft of American Coots (bird in the foreground is not a Coot) (photo: Gay Schroer) 
On this particular day the lake was relatively quiet, and a raft of American Coots (often referred to as Mud Hens) were swimming and feeding nearby. Suddenly, my husband spotted one of the Bald Eagles flying toward the Coots.  However, contrary to what he expected, the eagle did not make a direct dive for the Coots.  Instead, he began to circle the hapless birds, driving them closer and closer to each other in their attempt to evade him.  After making several circles around the flock, the eagle had them herded up into such a tight group that they were literally climbing on top of each other in their effort to evade the predator.  At that point the eagle made his move, dropping like a bullet into the middle of the frenzied birds, snatching one up, and then flying off with his prize.

I don’t know if this is a common hunting technique for Bald Eagles, or if this particular raptor has developed his own particular hunting style, but John Wayne would have been proud of him. 

Remington—one of the many beautiful Bald Eagles on our display line (photo: Gay Schroer) 
Not all of us are lucky enough to witness a wild Bald Eagle in full hunting mode, but to get a good close-up look at a number of these majestic birds plan a visit to the World Bird Sanctuary sometime soon.  You won’t be disappointed. 

Later in the year plan to attend one of our Eagle Days programs held at various locations near rivers and lakes where Bald Eagles are known to congregate during winter.  As the weather gets colder the birds from up north will be migrating down river to open waters, giving us St. Louis area natives one of the most magnificent winter spectacles in the country.  You will even stand a chance of seeing a wild Bald Eagle on the hunt.

Submitted by Gay Schroer, World Bird Sanctuary Volunteer/Photographer

 (photo: Sandra Lowe)

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