I heard the eagles before I saw them. They typically fly over the neighborhood, over my house, predominately, and they’re whisper quiet, coasting on the air currents. Today they were on a mission. They were chasing some poor devil of a crow who flew through my backyard at breakneck speed with three eagles in hot pursuit.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the eagles chase a crow through my yard–maneuvering between my house and the neighbor’s and our low-hanging trees. Then I heard an eagle calling out over the street. There probably was an ambush waiting for the crow.
There was a television mini-series called, “Once an Eagle” (1976), one of the most acclaimed mini-series of all time. Several years later, in a little town in the Amazon Jungle–in a Best Western, if you can believe it–my pilot friends and I were tired of playing poker, and ended up sitting in the lounge, trying to get reception on the only television. Finally, we landed a decent channel and “Una vez un águila” (Once an eagle) was playing, except it was a lone episode–it wasn’t showing as a mini-series. I spent the entire time it aired, explaining the plot to a handful of young Amazon bush pilots, who were racking up flight time flying in and out of the jungle for the lumber companies, petroleum and mining companies and the usual drug runners. For some unknown reason, “Una vez un águila” pops up in my mind every time I see an eagle in flight. Which means, daily, since living in Florida. There is a lake nearby–only a few blocks away–where the Bald Eagles live year-round. Typically I will see one eagle around noon circling overhead, hunting. Occasionally, there will be three eagles, gliding on the warm air currents coming off the Gulf of Mexico.
Only yesterday I was sitting on the patio, drinking my coffee and smoking, as was my morning custom, when four eagles appeared overhead, quickly followed by four more. They were unusually early. I was fascinated to see the eight eagles circling overhead, swooping downward, with one eagle spotting high up in the sky. The once noisy neighborhood typically inundated with bird song, squirrel calls and obnoxious crows worrying the small birds with their cacophony of fluttering wings–was deadly silent. I wasn’t aware that eagles hunt together in such a large convocation until I moved here.
Naturally we have eagles in New Mexico. The Continental Divide runs through New Mexico, which is a high desert–always with mountains in sight coming off the tail of the Rockies. Albuquerque boasts a mile high elevation, and the nearby Sandia Mountains another mile higher where eagles nest yet often come into the city. Years ago I came face to face with one trying to grab my 4 lb chihuahua. I don’t know what made me look out from the garage that day, but when I did, I saw the shadow of a huge wingspan and knew instantly what it was. I ran to my dog who was watering a weed nearby. I got to him just as the eagle was swooping in to grab him with those deadly talons. Instead, the huge raptor hit me on the shoulder as I bent down and grabbed my little guy, before it could correct its flight–tearing my shirt and only slightly tearing through a few layers of skin on my shoulder.
It flew straight for the doorway to my townhouse and perched on the banister. Odd how it knew where I lived and virtually barred my way inside. Holding my dog to my chest (mind you, he was oblivious to all this) I stared at the eagle as it pretended not to notice me. In hindsight, I think it was a bit put-off by the sloppy encounter. The intelligence in those eyes was so very riveting. It was definitely watching me–waiting for another chance for a Mexican dinner. Finally, I spoke rather sternly, telling the impressive-looking bird it would not have chihuahua for dinner that day.
It was a stand-off for about ten minutes. I could have gone into the garage, but I was fascinated by the bird. I know now as I knew then, that the eagle could have flown at me–counting on me dropping my dog. I believe he was weighing his options and decided against taking me on. Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the raptor took flight so effortlessly and returned to the sky, hunting for its dinner. I often saw the eagle perched in the top of a monstrously tall, dead tree, up the road from me. I never again allowed my little dog to wander about outdoors without me by his side. It was the first time–but not my last–that I would experience the cleverness, tenacity and display of entitlement of an American Bald Eagle.