Fox vs. Eagle

Think of the last time you saw two different animal species meet. Perhaps it was the classic stand-off: dog chasing cat down road, cat scratching dog on nose.

Stand off between cat (Felis catus) and dog (Canis familiaris). Wikipedia Commons.

Whatever your experiences, I bet you’ve never seen this one before. And if you have, I’ll eat my hat.

New video footage from the currently airing BBC 2 Winterwatch in the remote, mountainous Trossachs National Park in Scotland has captured a fascinating, rarely-seen interaction between a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). The interaction could have been due to the harsh, snowy conditions with both animals hungry and vying over a tasty treat: a carcass to scavenge.

Given the golden eagle’s hunting prowess, including its large size and razor-sharp talons, (and the fact that they are known to attack and kill foxes; see e.g. Kazakhs hunting with eagles), you might think that the outcome of the interaction would be an obvious one, but you might be surprised…

A golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos). A very large bird, its wingspan can be longer than Michael Jordan is tall, ranging from 5 ft 11 inches to 7 ft 8 inches. It builds its nests on cliff edges.

What a brave fox! Perhaps this was a particularly hungry or aggressive individual. Or maybe the eagle was young and inexperienced, or not so hungry as to risk the wrath of the fox. Whatever the reason, it is amazing to see. This footage is made all the more impressive given that there are only about 400 breeding pairs of golden eagles in Scotland, all living in highly remote, mountainous areas. So, to catch one on camera, let alone record one fighting with a red fox, is sensational.

These beautiful eagles have no natural predators but have been historically persecuted by humans, either by shooting or poisoning, due to the perception that they take game and lambs. They have been extinct in England and Wales since 1850, except for one breeding pair near Haweswater in the Lake District, which is now under threat. The remaining small numbers in Scotland have only recently started to make a comeback, particularly in the Western Isles, although for unknown reasons they have failed to re-colonise apparently suitable areas. They are still under threat from illegal persecution and low food availability and are afforded the highest degree of protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Serious kudos to the fox, though. I don’t think I’d take on a golden eagle over lunch, even if it were lobster thermidor.



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