Tangled bald eagles crash land on Minnesota street

two bald eagles lying on the ground, their wings and bodies overlapping
(Image credit: Plymouth Police Department)

A pair of bald eagles interlocked their talons during a territorial dispute — or potentially a lover's dance — and crash-landed as a tangled duo onto a Minnesota street early this month. 

A small crowd soon assembled where the bald eagles fell, near the intersection of 41st Avenue and Nathan Lane in Plymouth, according to WCCO 4 News, a local  television station. Video footage showed the entangled eagles struggling on the ground and occasionally letting out loud shrieks. At other moments, the birds laid still, their outstretched wings draped over one another.

The Plymouth Police Department was called to the scene, and in body cam footage, police officer Mitchell Martinson can be heard saying, "They're definitely locked together, kind of out of energy," as he approaches the tangled birds in the roadway. He reached out to the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center for guidance, WCCO 4 News reported.

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Given that bald eagles are often portrayed as mighty and regal birds, this sort of clumsy entanglement may seem like an odd occurrence. But in actuality, eagles get caught in each other's talons more often than you might think, KARE 11 reported.

The entanglements typically happen during in-air fights over territory, and "there are two times of year when we know this to occur," Dr. Victoria Hall, a veterinarian and executive director of the Raptor Center, told KARE 11. In the spring, bald eagles establish mating pairs and may fight for territory while setting up their nests. And in the fall, fights sometimes break out as some bald eagles reclaim nests to use in the winter months.

Each year, The Raptor Center, which specializes in the medical care, rehabilitation and conservation of eagles, hawks, owls and falcons, treats about six bald eagles with injuries endured during such battles. Sometimes, the skirmishes can be fatal, Hall told KARE 11; she recalled one occasion where a pair of eagles became entangled and then plunged to their deaths in a river below.

That said, some bald eagles become entangled during courtship rituals, rather than during territorial disputes, Crystal Slusher of the American Eagle Foundation told NPR. Bald eagles practice a courtship ritual that involves locking talons, diving toward the ground and then separating just before hitting terra firma. In the case of the two eagles in Minnesota, "it could've went wrong and they just didn't let go in time," Slusher said.

However they became entangled, thankfully, the two bald eagles eventually freed themselves and flew away, seemingly no worse for wear. "Eventually the eagles started going at it again and the next thing you knew, they were just flying away," Martinson told WCCO 4 News.

Originally published on Live Science. 

Nicoletta Lanese
Channel Editor, Health

Nicoletta Lanese is the health channel editor at Live Science and was previously a news editor and staff writer at the site. She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from UC Santa Cruz and degrees in neuroscience and dance from the University of Florida. Her work has appeared in The Scientist, Science News, the Mercury News, Mongabay and Stanford Medicine Magazine, among other outlets. Based in NYC, she also remains heavily involved in dance and performs in local choreographers' work.