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The Eagle and the Snake

November 13, 2023

The Eagle and the Snake

- as seen by -

John Delaney 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.


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ken gargett
November 17, 2023 at 6:17 pm

Always enjoy the emails.
I’m based in Australia and friends and I always take an annual holiday on Fraser Island – world’s largest sand island, off the Queensland coast just south of the Great Barrier Reef. As well as all the amazing sights and wildlife the Island offers, it is a fishing hotspot. Mostly fishing off the beach for tailor – what you might call bluefish. From July to October, it is also possible to see the humpback whales as they travel up and back off the coast. These days, with numbers recovering, often possible to see a few dozen a day. On rare occasions, one can also see the green turtles coming ashore to lay eggs, at the right time of year.
Your email reminded me of a trip a few years ago. We were driving back down the beach, past where we had done some fishing recently. A sea eagle dived into the waves, very close to where we had been standing. It came out, carrying a large sea snake (one can occasionally see one washed up on the beach but live ones less frequently). This was very close to water’s edge – it is not wise to venture too far into the surf as very large sharks are common. I grabbed the camera and took some shots but in the rush, they are rather blurry, sadly. But it was an amazing thing to see. The eagle flew off, presumably to feed its young, with the snake still struggling furiously.
Your email brought back some wonderful memoires.