29 July 2023
It was late afternoon and I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds by reaching under the bird netting that covered the vegetable garden. I was looking down when I heard a very prominent disturbance in the air just above my head. I turned to look up and not ten feet above me was the body, talons, outstretched wings, and flared tail of a Bald eagle!
WHAT THE HELL!!!
It appeared that I was under attack. At that moment, the eagle changed its mind, flared off, and flew away going low over the top of the adjacent farm buildings. I can tell you that at ten feet above your head an eagle with outstretched wings is enormous and with the air rushing through its flared feathers as when it is breaking the momentum of a dive and talons extended, it is frightening. Only once before have I ever experienced anything like this. *
Meanwhile, Jean, who did not witness my encounter with the eagle, looked out the window at her desk just in time to see it fly away low over the pasture. In her words “It was not flying at its normal under-control pace as when it usually comes by here, but rather, it was hauling ass.”
I have spent considerable effort trying to make sense of this weird encounter. My best interpretation is as follows. Our small garden is adjacent to a gravel driveway that runs between a group of farm buildings: a garage and ag-machinery storage shed to the east and a shop building and large enclosed storage/work area to the west. The barn and its chicken yard are just to the south. Chickens roam the area and are often found along the driveway between buildings – thus, the need for bird netting over the garden.
An eagle flying from the east, as our local eagle often does, cannot see into the driveway area between buildings until it is almost right over it, especially if it is flying low. On my hands and knees looking down, my head with its grey/white hair could have been mistaken for a chicken. The eagle, which we often see, knows our barnyard well, visits the barn often, and has been a suspected culprit along with the coyotes and mink in the steady, but slow, disappearance of our chickens over the years.
My guess, which was the explanation advanced by Jean, is that the eagle mistook my head for a chicken, made a quick dive to attack, realized its mistake at the last moment when I turned around and flared off accordingly.
From now on, I’m wearing a hat, or maybe a bike helmet, when I go outside.
* In my early teens I raised rabbits as a hobby and to supplement the family larder. Once when I was tending to my rabbits, I was catching them in one cage and moving them to another to allow cage cleaning. In the process of catching the young ones, they would often scream. It was twilight of an autumn evening and the rabbit screams carried far and wide through the otherwise quiet evening air. I looked up just in time to see a silent-winged apparition with talons directed straight at my face come swooping out of the gathering darkness over the roof of the rabbit hutch. At the last second, the Great-horned owl that was riding those silent wings and carrying those fearsome talons, recognized its target was not the expected rabbit but rather something quite unlike any of its familiar prey. It broke off the attack and flew off to the left. That was 70 years ago. Today’s eagle encounter with its unexpected suddenness and frightening affect was reminiscent of that owl episode. Each was a close brush with an attacking raptor, but in each breath-catching case no contact was made and no harm was done.