November 13, 2023
The Eagle and the Snake
- as seen by -John Delaney
Boat passengers traveling through the waters of the Bay of Fundy can witness a plethora of breathtaking vistas and wildlife in the space of a few hours. Whales, seals, and seabirds are common sights. One of the regular highlights of any water excursion is the bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), a stately bird of prey and one of the great conservation success stories of the past century.
As a naturalist on the Lubec, Maine-based whale watch vessel Tarquin, I have shared many great wildlife moments with our voyagers, and the activities of eagles are always noteworthy. Bald eagles are mostly fish eaters, and on a few occasions, we have marveled at these raptors snatching mackerel, herring, and other species from the surface of the water. They can also be opportunistic hunters and scavengers of many other animal species, including crabs, rabbits, ducks, deer, and other species. In one curious instance this past season, we watched a bald eagle feeding on a maritime garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis pallidulus) as our boat steamed past a stand of spruce trees on nearby Campobello Island.
Eagle-snake interactions have long exerted a powerful grip on the human imagination. The Greek storyteller Aesop used the pairing in the fable titled “The Serpent and the Eagle” as a means of moral instruction about repaying acts of kindness. Many cultures have produced mythologies in which eagles and snakes become representations of the conflicts between virtue and adversity. A more recent manifestation of such symbolism can be found on the flag of Mexico.
In reality, eagles eating snakes are just another example of predator-prey relationships found in nature and something that one would not expect to see on a boat searching for whales.