Birds in the News

Bald Eagle and Canada Goose Throw Down in Epic Battle

We may never get to see Obama and Trudeau duke it out, so this is our next best option.

A dramatic clash between a Canada Goose and a Bald Eagle was captured on film a week ago, and while it wasn’t quite a redux of the War of 1812, it still managed to give patriots from both north and south of the 49th parallel a team to root for.

Photographer Lisa Bell was camping on Vancouver Island when she captured the avian throwdown. At first, the eagle looked to be winning, resting on top of an apparently stunned Canada Goose. Evidently, however, the goose was merely preparing a clever rope-a-dope defense, as the next few photos show the bird making a daring escape from its would-be predator. The eagle chased its meal to a nearby pond where, according to Bell, the goose dove deep underwater whenever the raptor approached until it eventually gave up and flew away.

While it’s not unheard of for a Bald Eagle to attack a goose in open water, says naturalist and Audubon Field Editor Kenn Kaufman, “[eagles] don't seem to have very good success at catching [geese]. Typically, the goose evades capture just the way this bird did.” He further notes that Bald Eagles mainly eat fish, but that their diet can vary greatly depending on what’s available and does sometimes include large birds like gulls, mallards and, yes, the occasional goose.

The Bald Eagle’s ignominious defeat wouldn’t have surprised natural scientist and founding father Benjamin Franklin. In his opinion, the eagle was “’a Bird of bad moral Character [who] does not get his Living honestly . . . he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward.” In other words, America’s national bird may be all spit and vinegar when attacking a stunned or sleeping goose from behind, but would much prefer a meal of carrion than something that puts up a fight.

The Canada Goose, on the other hand, has a reputation for ferocity and courage in defense of its territory or family. This is true across many cultures—in China, for example, geese are a powerful symbol of marital fidelity, loyalty, and bravery. Perhaps most importantly, while geese may have an aggressive reputation, nobody has ever accused a goose of snatching and eating Mr. Whiskers.

The Bald Eagle is the U.S. national bird, and while Canucks haven't chosen a national bird yet (voting is still open), the Canada Goose has “Canada” right in the name. Determining what, if anything, these birds’ characteristics say about the character of the nations that they symbolize is left as an exercise for the reader, but hopefully this encounter doesn’t carry any deeper geopolitical symbolism. After all it’s worth noting that, as residents of Vancouver Island, both birds are most likely Canadian anyway.

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