Wildlife sighting
5:01 am
Fri July 12, 2013

Close Encounter with Fighting Eagles at Seward Park

It’s always pretty special to see an eagle soaring near the water. But summer revelers in Seattle were recently shocked when they saw two of the large birds fighting in mid-air, dive-bombing each other at Seward Park. 

Dylan Okimoto and his daughter were throwing a football around at the park on July 4 when suddenly others near him started shouting.

“So I turn around and think I catch a glimpse of something black and spiraling,” Okimoto said. "And it ends up (that) two eagles crash-land into the water.”

He managed to pull out his phone and capture much of it on video. The footage is wobbly, but you can see how one of the eagles fighting, oblivious to three children floating just a few feet from the raptors.

Okimoto says he could see the birds’ razor-sharp talons. He and other parents yelled at the children to get out of the water.

 “That was really a tense moment. The eagles flew out away from the beach, turned and then were coming straight at all of us, including the kids (as they fought)," he said. “So the first pass went right by the kids.”

Luckily, no one got hurt. Eventually, the attacker flew away and the second eagle swam onto the beach, visibly injured and waterlogged, before it, too, flew off.

Though a rare sighting, the exchange is not too surprising, according to wildlife specialists at the Seward Park Audubon Center. Naturalist Annie Morton says the birds were likely fighting over fish. Now home to two nests, the park is getting a bit crowded. And, Morton says, eagles are better scavengers than hunters.

“They are very happy to steal from each other. And this was probably a food fight of some sort, which is pretty standard, no big deal. It happens a lot," Morton said. "These are predator animals, and so they will fight. And they can do damage to each other.”

Watching the video does make Morton wince. The eagle's six-foot wingspan can prove dangerous when the bird is frightened. As a rule of thumb, people should stay at least 100 feet away from eagles, she said. 

But the recent incident is also a testament to the population that has been on rebounding since the 1970s when eagles became protected under the Endangered Species Act and the government banned the pesticide DDT.