I was working at my computer when a flurry of activity on the lake caught my eye: three large raptors and a lot of splashing. I yelled up to Brian, who was in the tower, as I grabbed the binoculars and ran outside.
At the center of the action – a small duck swimming alone in the middle of the lake. Circling around this baby – three large raptors – who definitely saw duck on the day’s menu. At least one was a bald eagle, not sure what the others were. They took turns competing for dinner.
Claws out, the first targeted the duck, swooped down and skimmed the surface of the water, leaving a contrail in its wake. Plucky Duck dove – bill down, tail feathers up, then deep under the water. I held my breath waiting for the raptor to climb. Claws empty! Plucky Duck surfaces yards away in a completely different direction than the raptor’s flight.
The eagle swoops in on an intercept course with the duck. At the last minute it stalls, talons deployed, wings outstretched. It hangs in the sky for an eternity, striking a majestic pose that would honor the seal of the United States. Searching the water below, it sights its target, tucks into torpedo position and dives deep beneath the surface. My heart is beating fast – who won the contest? Nothing… nothing… then the eagle surfaces and flies off. Talons empty! Plucky Duck comes up for air twenty feet away, no where near where the eagle dove.
The death dance continues as raptors fifteen times larger than Plucky Duck continue to swoop, skim, claw, and dive. But every time Plucky Duck out-maneuvers them. I’m rooting for Plucky Duck, cheering each evasion, fearful that the pluck is going to run out and that the next dive will end with Plucky Duck being carried off to the eagle’s lair.
But a miracle happens. The raptors tire and retreat to their aeries in tree tops high above the lake. The duck squad near the shore, whose sole contribution to the fight was the quacking equivalent of “sucks to be you, Plucky Duck,” settles down as their wayward duck returns. Was Plucky Duck a baby who had the misfortune of being accidentally left alone in the center of the lake (shame on you duck squad!)? Or, was Plucky Duck a rebellious teenager who answered the cautionary dictates of the rest of the flock with a sneering “you aren’t the boss of me” and headed out for deeper waters?
As the clouds roll in and a chill wind churns up the surface of the lake, the ducks huddle together and the eagles are no where to be seen. But I’m sure they hunch nearby, waiting for the next Plucky Duck to venture out into their hunting zone.
Update: Brian found this video that gives you a feel for what we were seeing. Our eagles weren’t as skilled, our duck was smarter – but you get the idea 🙂