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Critters of New York

Bald Eagles Are Back in NYC and Waging War on Our Beautiful Herons

Well, at least one heron.

The majestic dance of nature. (Rebecca McCray)

Most mornings, I take my dog Phil for a walk in Prospect Park. We walk along the lake’s edge, and I soak up a few peaceful moments before work while Phil excitedly tries to eat goose shit. Inevitably, I wind up taking some version of the same photo I’ve taken 9,000 times of my bratwurst-shaped dog gazing contemplatively over the water. 

This week, our morning ritual took us to the lake’s peninsula, which tends to be quieter than the rest of the park and a great place to briefly fantasize about leaving humanity behind to live in the woods. But as Phil sniffed the water’s edge and I got out my phone to document him doing the same banal things he does every day, the quiet was interrupted by a visit from the brutal truth of the animal kingdom.

A huge bald eagle was swooping up and down, chasing after what looked like a great blue heron. The heron was making distressed honking sounds, to my dog’s horror. We watched them dramatically swoop around the peninsula, until they went around a bend and I lost sight of them. The bald eagle eventually soared back into my line of sight, alone, and landed on a high branch to survey the water.

The chase is on. (Rebecca McCray)

I’m no bird expert, but I have enough bird nerds in my life that I felt pretty confident that I had identified them correctly. I did what any budding naturalist would do, and took to Instagram to confirm, where my followers affirmed my observations with their expertise:

—“I’m sorry what holy crap”

—“Ummmmm wow”

—“Definitely a bald eagle and a heron!”

—“Yes! There is a bald eagle in Prospect Park!”

—“Omfg”

—“I need to hear the verdict from the bird people”

As Prospect Park’s parks Twitter account has confirmed, along with local reporters and bird enthusiasts, a bald eagle has definitely taken up residence in the park. But none of that answered my primary question: why would a bald eagle try to mess with a heron? 

It turns out it’s not uncommon for bald eagles and herons to compete for fish, and bald eagles are also known to prey on heron nests, vying for eggs or chicks. But herons don’t typically nest and lay eggs until March or April, and this didn’t look like a fish fight—it looked like the eagle was straight up hunting the heron. Ornithologists of New York City, please weigh in. Phil and I need answers.  

*On a related note, here is a photo of a heron in Florida losing its shit seconds before a bald eagle plows into it.

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