Crow Tries to Fight Eagle, Gets Free Ride Instead

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In another instance of one animal riding on another, photos from California-based photographer Phoo Chan show a nestled on a flying ’s back. But the crow was likely looking to do more than catch a lift.

When close enough to land, the crow was probably mid-attack, explains Kevin McGowan, a biologist who specializes in crow behavior at the Cornell lab of Ornithology.

Birds are very territorial, particularly during the summer when their hatchlings are vulnerable. Crows (and many birds) seem to have a Napoleon complex—the mere presence of a larger bird incites heckling and mobbing.

Hovering above the eagle, the crow is actually mid-attack, experts say. Photograph by Phoo Chan, Media Drum World

McGowan says territorial birds don’t normally get too close, but this particular crow probably found itself in the eagle’s draft and settled in for the ride.

Not worth the eagle’s attention, it ignores the crow surfing on its back. Photograph by Phoo Chan, Media Drum World

“This would be kind of like a dog chasing a car and jumping up” on it, says McGowan. “Dogs always want to catch the car, but they never know what they’d do if they get it.”

But why didn’t the eagle react to the crow landing? Since the crow wasn’t pecking, it didn’t warrant the eagle’s attention.

As the largest birds of prey, eagles are harassed nonstop by birds of all species. Sometimes the hecklers are so persistent, it looks like the eagles “are being followed by mosquitoes,” says McGowan.

Crows are excellent at adjusting their wings to respond to small changes in the breeze. Photograph by Phoo Chan, Media Drum World

There is little doubt, then, that these photos are real. They are “not particularly surprising,” says McGowan.

Chan’s photos capture the entire sequence of events, suggesting the event actually happened, says Mallory Benedict, an assistant photo editor at National Geographic.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to fly on the back of an eagle?

The crow rests a moment on the eagle’s back before launching back into the air. Photograph by Phoo Chan, Media Drum World

This article was first published by National Geographic on 02 Jul 2015.


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William Hewson

great pics! We witness the small Noisy Miners here in Australia chasing White bellied Sea Eagles and Wedge Tail Eagles, but not sitting on their backs, this is very special.

Leigh Lofgren

amazing to see


I saw the video….it was awesome how the crow rode on the eagles back…then flew away…like…ok I’m done…see you later! How stoked the guy who filmed this must of been!!


Crows have great birdtalk. Wonder what he said to his limousine.

Susan Frudd

Brilliant, nature never fails to amaze us………

Susan Lee

There was an occasion last year when I saw a golden eagle raiding and gulping a chick from a raven's nest then flew off with the pair of huge ravens that had three-quarter of the wingspan of the eagle each dive-bombing it as they all three eventually disappeared into the horizon beyond the trees. Too bad for them they didn't have the "talons" for doing any real damage.

Brenda Robinson

Nature is fascinating! Always entertaining and teaching us!

Terence Hale

This exemplify aerodynamics is in command of nature.