The Martial Eagle and The Ostriches

The Martial Eagle and The Ostriches

On Safari in the Masai Mara, departing from Fig Tree camp, we started our morning taking some pictures of the balloons as they were being filled.  We were on a two week safari, and this was our next to last day, Sept 10, 2010.  Then a few mintues later we came across a pair of Bat-eared Foxes, but the light was still very low at 6:30am.  Sunrise wouldn’t be until 6:38am.

A few mintues before 7:00am we came across a pair of Masai Ostrich in the golden light of early morning

Then we noticed they had a troop of chicks with them.

They soon took the troop out onto the track.  If you count carefully, you can see seventeen chicks!  Ostrich chicks grow nearly one foot taller per month for the first seven to eight months.  These chicks must have been quite young.  Each being the size of a medium sized chicken.

Then at about 7:20am, a Martial Eagle appeared from nowwhere and snatched a chick and flew off a few hundred meters to a nearby perch.  Martial Eagles are the largest eagles in Africa with a two meter wingspan.  They hunt by soaring high overhead and then swooping down in a stoop to catch their prey unawares.  They can take game as large as an impala calf, but apparently prefer game birds.

With out safari vehicle we were able to catch up to the perch quickly, within a minute.  This first behavior this eagle exhibits is “mantling”, hiding it’s prey with it’s wings so other predators can’t see it and steal it.

At this point the chick was still showing some signs of life that the eagle quickly extinquished by grabbing it with it’s powerful talons.

The eagle was still checking the surroundings for trouble.

Next the eagle started to pluck off the feathers, just like you might pluck a chicken.

Curiously we could still see the Ostrich family in the distance, and they seemed to be coming our way.

Returning to our eagle, what he was trying to do next was rather suprising.  He was trying to pull off the chick’s head.  I guess knowing it couldn’t eat the head.

The eagle struggled with the head for several minutes.  Pulling with it’s beak, pushing with it’s feet, and using it’s wings to create extra force …

All the pulling and pushing was certainly stretching the neck ….

Eventually the eagle succeeded in tearing the head off, but in so doing embarassingly dropped the carcase to the ground, and found it had to give up the perch to go to ground to continue it’s meal.

Meanwhile the ostriches were getting closer !

It was interesting to see how the pair could “herd” the troop of chicks, now sixteen in number, and seeminly unpreturbed by the closeness of the eagle.

Until the entire ostrich family was just opposite the tree our eagle was under.

I never would have expected what happened next, but the female ostrich fluffed up her feathers to make herself look bigger and then charged straight towards the eagle.  Clearly her strategy was to get the eagle to drop the chick.  Saddly it had taken the ostriches nearly 30 minutes to shepherd their troop of chicks just a few hundred meters, and now the chick caught by the eagle was well and truly dead.

And the eagle wasted no time in gathering up his now headless victim and flying off the the next perch a few hundred meters away.

At this point, the ostriches gave up the pursuit …

And the eagle continued plucking feathers off the prey in preparation for a feast.

Still occasionally mantling it’s prey to guard against theft.

Tucking into it’s meal.

The eagle has a very full crop.  We stayed with this scene for an hour, and although it was sad the ostrich chick lost it’s life, it was one of the most interesting experiences we had in Africa.

More photos from this trip can be seen at these links:

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2 Responses to “The Martial Eagle and The Ostriches”

  1. shadi says:

    very very niceeeeeeeee

  2. Tom Vida says:

    Dear Con,

    You may remember me. I am a childhood friend of Penny Pigott (aka Penne Dann). She told me about your fabulous bird photographs. She is correct, the ones on this site are stunning and dramatic. I can’t say I enjoyed all of them, but I was impressed.

    I hope you are well. I realize you are half a world away, but, if your birding travels ever bring you to Tucson, Arizona, look me up.

    Best wishes,
    Tom Vida

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