All photos courtesy of Kelly Munday
This serene, unsuspecting trumpeter swan was captured flying over Lakelse Lake in British Columbia when suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, a bald eagle launched a fierce and audacious mid-flight attack on it. The bird of prey landed on its victim, seizing hold of it while trying to pierce its vital areas with its dagger-like hind claws. What follows is an incredible sequence of photos of avian aerial combat at its most tense and gripping.
Graceful and majestic, the lone swan glides through the air. Yet unbeknown to this largest of native North American birds, a formidable winged predator has fixed it in its eagle eye.
Without warning, the bald eagle swoops from the sky, stunning the swan, whose neck bends in an effort to avoid the deadly talons of its rapacious though much lighter attacker.
The talons of the bald eagle are powerful and razor-sharp. Though usually more accustomed to plucking fish out of the water, we see here their effects on another bird as feathers fly from the swan straining to get away.
With the eagle lunging again and the two birds locked in combat, the next shot has a wonderful symmetry. As the swan emits a cry of alarm, its wingspan (average 6.7 ft) measures up against that of its assailant (up to 8 ft).
Through a mighty effort to evade the clutches of death in mid air, the swan forces the eagle to lose its grip – but its belly lies severely exposed to another strike by the attacking raptor.
Though it still looks dangerously prone, the force of the swan’s flapping allows it to break free – no mean feat against a predator capable of taking prey as large as deer fawns.
Following the five-second struggle, the swan drops through the air, perhaps exhausted from the fight for its life, or perhaps simply anxious to make its escape by any means.
Although attacks like these have been recorded, few avian predators apart from the golden eagle are typically capable of taking on non-nesting adult swans, the bald eagle tending to prey on smaller birds.
While the eagle soars overhead, the swan, bottom right, manages to fly down to the water, apparently not seriously hurt, having cut loose from this breathtaking life-and-death battle.
With special thanks to Kelly Munday for kind permission to use her incredible sequence of photographs.