After a months-long investigation, wildlife officials in Maine believe a bald eagle was stabbed and killed by another bird in a first-of-its-kind documented animal attack.
"Wow" is the word wildlife biologist Danielle D'Auria at Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife used to describe a bald eagle being stabbed through its heart by a loon last September.
"Word got around that this eagle had been found dead," D’Auria said Friday, explaining how she heard about the creature caper. "I heard about it through loon researchers who had heard about it through a wildlife rehabilitator."
The eagle was found stabbed through its heart after being recovered from a lake in Bridgton, D'Auria said. A kayaker had found it floating face down and called game wardens to remove it.
The warden who responded thought the eagle had been shot, but upon closer examination months afterward during a necropsy at a lab in New Hampshire, X-rays disproved that theory.
"The X-rays showed there was no lead in the eagle, no evidence of being shot," D'Auria said.
Instead, researchers focused on the measurements of what they realized was a puncture wound which resulted in a hypothesis that the real culprit was an attacking loon.
"Sure enough, the person at the lab did all that and her findings were consistent with what we suspected," D'Auria said.
While loons are known for floating on bodies of water and making iconic calls, they are also known to biologists to attack when prompted.
D'Auria told NECN and NBC10 Boston that in spring, the birds can be territorial and attack each other.
They're also known to dash up from under the water and force their sharp beaks at eagles, which sometimes prey on loon chicks, as was the case in Bridgton where a dead loon chick with talon marks was found near the eagle.
"They are really beautiful and serene animals but they are capable of defending themselves and being aggressive towards others," D'Auria explained.
All the measurements of the eagle's wound point to that happening, along with witnesses hearing a loud clamor from the lake that night.
"From our understanding, this is the first time this has been documented where it has actually killed an eagle, a pretty top predator. That's why it was pretty fascinating," D'Auria said.
Anyone who finds a dead eagle in Maine is asked to call the state's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Staff will either give instructions on how to retrieve the animal or the state will come and do the recovery itself.