In another instance of one animal riding on another, photos from California-based photographer Phoo Chan show a crow nestled on a flying eagle’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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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?
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