A contest between a the bald eagle, America’s national bird, and a common loon, which is featured on Canada’s dollar coin, few would bet on the latter to come out the victor.
But sometimes the underdog comes out on top, as was revealed when an eagle was found dead in the water near a dead loon chick in a Maine lake.
A necropsy revealed he was killed by a stab to the heart from a loon’s beak.
Baby loons are common prey for eagles, which are fearsome hunters.
Bald eagles are protected in the US, and typically their remains are sent to the directly to the National Eagle Repository in Colorado.
It is a crime in the US to kill an eagle, possess one or disturb its remains, except for special exemptions, such as in the use of Native American ceremonies.
But after seeing a dead baby loon chick so near the carcass, scientists began to wonder if the eagle could have been killed by an enraged mother loon in an avian equivalent of David and Goliath.
So they sent the eagle not to the eagle repository, but to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin where it could be examined by a loon specialist.
There, a pathologist found that the eagle died by a quick stab to the heart from what appeared to be a loon beak, and the chick had eagle talon marks, indicating it had been captured by an eagle.
A nearby neighbour also told wildlife investigators she heard a “hullabaloo” the night before.
Wildlife biologist Danielle D’Auria, who works for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, shared the news on the department’s blog, noting it is the first confirmed case of a loon slaying an eagle.
“Who would think a loon would stand a chance against such a powerful predator?” she wrote.
Loons are water birds like ducks, geese, and grebes, but they are classified separately by scientists.