Earlier this month in Minnesota, two bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were found with their talons interlocked, potentially caught in a quarrel, right in the middle of a neighborhood street, reports Nicoletta Lanese for Live Science.
A small crowd gathered around the eagles, and eventually, the Plymouth Police Department was called to the scene. Dash cam footage shows the eagles lying in the street, wings outstretched, shrieking and struggling to free themselves.
"I don't know what to do with them," police officer Mitchell Martinson can be heard saying in a body camera video recorded at the scene, reports NPR's Joe Hernandez. "They're definitely locked together, kind of out of energy."
Officials are unsure how the raptors entangled themselves. Crystal Slusher, a spokesperson for the American Eagle Foundation, told NPR that territorial fighting or courtship could have caused the predicament. As bald eagle populations grow, disputes between the birds of prey increase as well, especially near nesting territory.
Bald eagles are one of the largest birds in North America, and they are incredibly territorial. When eagles fight, it begins with territorial vocalizations that sound like a high-pitched scream. The bird will then circle over the unwanted intruder until it leaves. If it does not go away, the eagle will chase the other raptor until they leave—or until a brawl starts.
Each year, the Raptor Center at the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota treats at least six bald eagles suffering battle wounds from territorial fights, per Live Science. Conflicts typically occur during spring when eagles search for an area to nest, and again when raptors will reclaim nests to use in winter.
For Plymouth police officers, there's no telling what call could come in next. Yesterday, police responded to a report of two bald eagles stuck together on a Plymouth roadway.— Plymouth Police, MN (@PlymouthMNPD) November 3, 2021
With a little assistance, the eagles were able to untangle themselves and flew away pic.twitter.com/3d9S9jpM1Z
When eagles undergo a courtship dance in the air, the birds will interlock talons and plummet towards the Earth before separating right at the last second and flying away, Slusher tells NPR. In this case, the two intertwined eagles may have misjudged their dive and stayed stuck until they hit the ground.
When Martinson arrived at the scene, he recalled seeing a show on Animal Planet that mentioned covering a bird's head may help it stay calm. In the bodycam footage, the officer is seen with a cloth bag trying to use this tactic before the eagles tried to fly away again, reports CBS Minnesota's John Lauritsen. Eventually, the eagles did free themselves and flew away shortly after.
"We do have de-escalation tactics," Martinson says in an interview with CBS Minnesota, "but I've never applied them to eagles or other animals."