On Tuesday at 2:24 p.m., bird lovers watching the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania's (ASWP) Bald Eagle cam were served a harsh dose of reality after one of the aquiline reality stars brought a kitten back to its nest. The bird then proceeded to tear the quarry up and feed it to its two eaglets (video here, but it's graphic). While the small cat already appeared to be dead on the live stream, some viewers were still taken aback—and that’s when the questions started. Do eagles poach cats? Should pet owners fear death from above? Do cats go to heaven?
Spoiler alert: No, no, and Google it.
Depending on where they live, some Bald Eagles eat mainly fish; others subsist mostly on other birds, such as gulls and geese. But mammals, like rabbits, lambs and, yes, even adorable kittens, are typically an uncommon item on the menu. The eagles that own the nest in Hays, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, are no exception: They’ve mainly been fetching fish, says ASWP Executive Director Jim Bonner. When a mammal does show up for dinner, it’s usually dead on arrival.
The fact is Bald Eagles don’t love the taste of red meat. When presented with a choice between a rabbit (by far the most common mammal in their diet) and a fish, chicks and juveniles will consistently abandon Thumper for sashimi. In fact, baldies seem to dislike mammalian prey so much that they won’t even bother hunting it; carrion is usually their primary source of red meat. In other words, Bald Eagles are a little picky—but mostly they’re just lazy. That’s why they tend to hang around garbage dumps (a great place to take your friends birding).
So, just to review, here’s a simplified take on a Bald Eagle’s tasting preferences:
- Anything they don’t have to chase.
- Everything else, including Mr. Whiskers.
While Tuesday’s feline feast might have shocked or disturbed some viewers, it’s important to remember that of the many good reasons to keep your cats indoors, “they might get slaughtered and eaten by a eagle” is pretty low on the list.
For more info on ASWP's eagle cams, online chats, and curriculums, head over to eagles.aswp.org.