Eagles: Cartwheels Gone AwryHaines, AK
Bald Eagles: Cartwheels – Why?
When two bald eagles fancy one another, courtship is dramatic. They’ll soar high in the sky, lock talons, and spin as they hurtle toward Earth. This dance is often called cartwheeling, a euphemistic term for a dance also known as the death spiral.
This courtship display, according to wildlife ecologist David Buehler of the University of Tennessee, is about “determining the fitness of your mate” as well as sparking attraction. There are risks, he says. “The stunt could, for instance, end in a fatal crash. It’s an interesting tension between succeeding with a mate and maintaining your own survival.”
When Cartwheels become Dartwheels
I watched in awe as this pair of bald eagles cartwheeled through Haines, AK airspace near the ship dock. They spun and plummeted in spectacular form, releasing just as one hit the water.
The still airborne mate continued his approach, dragging a wing through the water and downing himself. Thankfully, eagles know how to swim. As long as their down feathers don’t get too wet, they will not drown.
Adding a Third Wheel
Then an interloper came to call, buzzing our pair as they collected their wits. The two males then began competing for the same female.
After several passes, the third bird finally flew off, leaving our bewildered pair to right themselves, take a few breast strokes and fly first through and then out o the water.
Wet and Not Amused
Our female was not impressed by the events that drove her into the drink. She made her way back to the ship dock to dry herself off, griping loudly all the way.
As water ran off her flight feathers and down her pipe of a perch, she gave a bit of a wet-dog shake and held her wings out to the wind. Eventually she did dry off and flew back toward Haines for a courtship respite.