Thursday, February 24, 2011
Extant Theropod Appreciation #8: Eagles
The Tawny Eagle, Aquila rapax. Another gem from Dan Ripplinger, from Flickr.
Look at an eagle and know: this bird means business. All birds "mean business," of course. But it's hard not to project human qualities onto this bird. The eyes seem to perfectly project a sense of determination and tenacity. It's such a striking feature that it inspired one of Jim Henson's most memorable creations. Sam the Eagle doesn't need to do anything and you've got a pretty solid idea of what he's like as a character.
Photo by Barry Johnson, via Flickr.
David Attenborough's Eagle: The Master of the Sky is one of many nature programs shared by BBCWorldwide's Youtube channel. It's one of his best. A sequence about Bald Eagles in Alaska is a particularly stunning portrayal of their social lives. As the gathered birds snatch dying salmon from a volcanically heated river, they vie with each other for the fish. It's a highly ritualized competition, far removed from the chaos one might think of when imagining predators competing for a kill.
This sequence is just the beginning; it's immediately followed by bits on the Crowned Eagle of Africa, picking monkeys out of trees, and a Golden Eagle in Greece who solves the problem of a tortoise's shell by carrying the poor creature high in the air and dropping it onto the rocks below. Two Black Eagles cooperate to hunt cagey rock hyraxes in Africa. African Fish-eagles harass flamingos until they're too exhausted to escape their talons. To watch the diversity of lifestyles and behaviors the eagles have adapted to as a genus, it's difficult to imagine why anyone would have ever consigned their saurian forbears to lives of bellicose drudgery. No doubt that the time-traveler visiting the Mesozoic would find that many of our most electric ideas about dinosaur behavior pale in comparison to the ways they truly interacted.