Peregrine versus Bald Eagle … Guess Who Wins

If you live on the coast you probably see bald eagles all the time but here in Pittsburgh it’s astonishing to see one in the city, especially in June, especially at the University of Pittsburgh a mile from the Monongahela River.

So imagine our amazement at the Pitt Peregrine Fledge Watch yesterday when an immature bald eagle appeared over Schenley Plaza riding a thermal.

Everybody had just focused their binoculars on the eagle and I was explaining why it didn’t have a white head and tail (they don’t turn white until the eagle matures at age four to five) when … Bang!  A peregrine came out of nowhere and attacked him.

It was the eagle’s turn to be astonished.  Dorothy zoomed up and dove again. Bang!  “Stay away from my babies!”

The eagle tried to lose altitude to get out of her way but he maneuvered like a C-130 cargo plane versus Dorothy, the fighter jet.

She was relentless, fast and dangerous.  The eagle flipped upside down to show his talons, hoping to fend her off, but he made a mistake.  He kept flying toward the Cathedral of Learning where Dorothy’s three youngsters waited and watched.

Again and again she dove on him, driving him past the Cathedral of Learning toward Downtown.  “Move it, buddy!”

Just before they disappeared she came close for good measure.

A minute passed.

Dorothy returned to the Cathedral of Learning, victorious.

It was all in a day’s work for a mother peregrine falcon.  Go, Dorothy!

(photos by Peter Bell)

24 thoughts on “Peregrine versus Bald Eagle … Guess Who Wins

  1. Breathtaking, literally! I held my breath reading and let out a huge exhale at the end. Peter’s photos and your description made up for my not being there. Thanks to both of you!

  2. During the fledge watches this week, several students have mentioned seeing a bald eagle flying over Schenley Park this year. I think we had a similar incident 2 years ago(?).
    Of course I was w*rking and missed this one 🙁
    Glad you and Pete were there.

  3. Thanks for this update! I have a question – driving into the city this morning along Fort Duquesne boulevard, up near the Fifth Avenue Place area, and I saw a very large bird circling that area. I don’t often see a bird of that big in this general area – could it have been that same eagle? Just curious, thanks!

    1. It’s hard to say… but is most likely to have been a turkey vulture. They’ve been cruising past Downtown a lot lately.

  4. Excellent narrative and great photos! I used to work in One Oxford Centre and would watch the peregrine falcons from the Gulf Tower occasionally perching on the ledge of the 40th floor. Saw many a turkey vulture and hawks, but never a bald eagle.

  5. So glad we got to see pictures of the whole event. That must have been thrilling to witness!!

  6. Kate – thanks so much for the whole story and the pictures! In my 40+ years of birdwatching, being there yesterday was one of the peaks – such a gift. And since I had my 21-year-old nephew with me, he no longer thinks birdwatching is boring! Yay, Dorothy!!

  7. By this morning at 8:15am all 3 youngsters had fledged. At lunchtime they practiced flying. No bald eagles today.

  8. Speaking of turkey vultures, one came by the Cathedral of learning about 3 hours before the eagle did. They’re large too. The vulture didn’t hang around for harassment from Dorothy the way the bald eagle did. Dorothy got off the building and made a sweeping circle to let the vulture know to stay away and it did. So I don’t have a picture of the two (falcon and vulture) in the same shot for a comparison, but if you want to see the general shape of the vultures…

  9. Wonderful pictures of Dorothy and the juvie bald eagle. She is one powerful PeFa!
    No wonder her genes are showing up in our Beauty! Beauty is a survivor like her mama! Long live Dorothy! Long life Beauty!

  10. Sorry I missed that action! My two favorite birds showed up at the same time and put on a show for everyone at the fledge watch. Way to go Dorothy. Enjoyed talking to everyone on Tuesday and seeing Dorothy reward her baby for his first flight.

  11. Wow. So awesome. I would have loved to see this. You go Dorothy. Thanks Kate. 🙂

  12. December 9, 2012: Last weekend (Dec 1) I saw a bald eagle soaring over the Monongahela River while I was at The Waterfront mall, directly across from the river from Duck Hollow.
    Today Tony Bledsoe wrote on PABIRDS:
    “At 10:30 am today (Dec. 9, 2012), I saw an immature Bald Eagle flying by the University of Pittsburgh Cathedral of Learning. One of the resident Peregrine Falcons at the Cathedral was dive-bombing it, although it didn’t hit the eagle. This Bald Eagle is probably the same bird as the one Kate St. John saw recently at nearby Duck Hollow.”

  13. reading a story about a landfill using harris hawks (falcons) to scare away seagulls caught my attention and started googling falcons, then falcons vs. eagles and came about this story. the more i read the more a love falcons over eagles. they are smarter, docile, faster, smaller, braver, just BAD all around.

  14. Am confused … Thought Dorothy was the mom to the one delayed chick not yet fledged. Was she fighting the eagle or was the mother of the 3 chicks? Loved the pictures and story. You all are a great resource for a beginning birder!

    1. Lisa, Dorothy is 16 years old and has nested 14 times. The eagle-attack photos are from 2012 when she had 3 chicks in the nest.

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