An avian murder mystery that has puzzled Maine wildlife experts has finally been solved, nearly one year after the body of a bald eagle was found “floating facedown” on Highland Lake in Bridgton. Officials have now pinpointed both the cause of death and a motive: A vengeful loon lanced the eagle through the heart, in an effort to protect its young. In other words, it was self-defense.
On July 26, 2019, Danielle D’Auria — a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife — received a tip about the dead bald eagle. According to the Bangor Daily News, hazy circumstances surrounded the bird’s demise. “There were no witnesses of what transpired,” D’Auria wrote in a recent MDIFW blog post. But there was a clue: a puncture wound on the bird’s chest.
Officials had the body radiographed, wondering if perhaps somebody shot it — a crime against patriotism. The corpse also underwent an autopsy at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, the results of which are only now being made public. Apparently, it was a loon’s beak, and not a bullet, that pierced the eagle’s heart.
“We know conflicts between bald eagles and loons have soared in recent years as a result of the recovery of our eagle population,” D’Auria wrote. “We are seeing more and more eagle predation on loon chicks and even adult loons.”
Now a scene begins to take shape: The night before, D’Auria said, “a woman in a nearby cabin had heard a ‘hullabaloo’ … consistent with agitated loons.” Damningly enough, a dead loon chick was also found near the crime scene, its small fuzzed form baring “puncture marks consistent with the spacing of eagle talons.” It would appear a territorial loon, distraught at the attempted birdnapping of its spawn, wielded its “dagger-like beak” as a weapon. As the eagle attempted to abscond with its young, the loon stabbed it straight in the heart.
D’Auria says this case is important because it may well be the first documented instance of a loon murdering an eagle, a larger and ostensibly more powerful adversary. But also, it is important because it highlights an evergreen but often overlooked piece of life advice: Never fuck with loons.