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Can Bald Eagles Swim?

Swimming Bald Eagle Lake Toho

                                                                                        Photo Stacia Hetrick ©

Wings flailing, their talons locked together, two Bald Eagles spiraled out of the sky and fell with a splash into the water.

Moments earlier, biologists Stacia Hetrick and Rob DeVries had spotted the two birds fighting in the air above Lake Toho near Orlando. Now they watched as the eagles floated on the surface, flapping their sodden wings. The older bird with the white head managed to heave itself into the air and flew off, leaving the younger bird struggling in the water.

Again and again the young eagle tried lift off from the water but without success. Hetrick and DeVries looked around for something they could use to help the bird, then decided to throw it a modified floating seat cushion.

Moving through the water like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke, the eagle swam directly to the cushion, heaved itself out of the water and stood on it, wings spread. However, whenever the bird tried to fly, it ended up back in the water.

Hetrick and DeVries tried several other options, once even bringing their boat close enough to hand another makeshift raft to the bird. “During the whole time we spent with him, he was completely calm.” said Hetrick. “He looked right into our eyes as we approached and he seemed as if he was just waiting to see if we would come up with something that could help him.”

Nothing they tried worked and the eagle ended up swimming 500 yards to shore with his flapping bird-butterfly stroke. Hetrick and DeVries followed in the boat, amazed at how well the eagle managed to move through the water. “I guess any bird that fishes for a living needs to be able to swim well - just in case,” said Hetrick.





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