The Story of the Bald Eagle and Great Blue Heron

Flying birds at Fox Lake: a bird of prey, the Bald Eagle, chases a Great Blue Heron.

Sometimes, the best photos are those you never plan for. A few years ago, as I was having renovations done in my apartment, the electrician doing the work mentioned that he knew of a Bald Eagle’s nest on Fox Lake, about an hour away, and asked if I’d like to photograph the birds. When I accepted, I never knew I’d get one of the most famous bird photos of my career.

My Nature Photography Takes Flight

We spent several hours in a flat-bottomed fishing boat, with my tripod balanced in the bow, watching and shooting the birds from about 100 yards away. The Bald Eagles were tending their hatchlings, when suddenly, a seemingly oblivious Great Blue Heron flew right toward the nests. There must have been 20 nests in the stand of trees, and the Blue Heron must have been blind not to see the eagles there. Sometimes Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles will nest close together, but they still stay wary of each other.

A Bald Eagle family with hatchlings in a nest, being watchful of predators.

When the Great Blue Heron landed near the eagles’ nest, the eagle straightened up almost like a cartoon, as if saying “Not here!” and took off to chase the heron away. Neither bird was attacking the other, but Bald Eagles can be fiercely defensive of their nesting territory, and the Great Blue Heron wasn’t at all welcome.

Capturing an extraordinary moment of a Bald Eagle and Blue Heron

I was shooting furiously, bending over the camera and twisting around as the birds moved. It was almost like a “dogfight” as the birds swerved and turned, and I felt like I was a machine gunner with my camera, just trying to keep them in frame. The shot I finally got was incredibly lucky, but sometimes you make your own luck – it wasn’t just happenstance that my electrician knew I did bird photography, or knew of the eagles’ nest, or invited me along. It’s all about the connections we make.

These flying birds getting into a minor scuffle and chase as the Bald Eagle protects its nest from the Great Blue Heron.

Of course, the photo’s composition turned out so well, it was at first suspected of manipulation. That suspicion was understandable, but looking at the RAW file you can tell the photo is genuine. It actually turned out kind of fun to see the fuss made over the photo, and in the end I’m glad it happened. Because of the controversy, more people saw the photo, noticed the majesty of the birds, and came to care about what happened to them. I love to make pretty pictures and my goal is always to get people involved, to recognize that this beauty is worth saving.

The Bald Eagle was once an endangered bird. Now, after bird conservation efforts, it has returned to Least Concern conservation status.