Bald eagles, like some other birds of prey, can swim using a movement that’s remarkably similar to the human breaststroke. If an eagle catches a fish that’s too heavy to lift, it may use its wings in a swimming motion to move to shore with its catch.
The Bald Eagle Breast Stroke
When one thinks of the American bald eagle, a distinctive image comes to mind: a majestic bird soaring high in the skies, its sharp eyes scouting below for prey, or perched high atop a tree or cliff. Rarely do we picture this iconic bird swimming in water, wings sprawled out, making its way steadily to the shore.
However, bald eagles are primarily fish eaters, and their hunting strategy involves swooping down from a high perch or mid-air to snatch fish out of the water with their talons. Sometimes the prey might be too hefty for the eagle to lift.
Instead of abandoning the catch, the eagle, driven by instinct and determination, will resort to “swimming” to the nearest shore, using its wings in a motion reminiscent of the human breaststroke.
The Mechanics of the Eagle’s “Breaststroke”
Eagles, like all birds, have powerful pectoral muscles that control their wing movements. When airborne, these muscles allow them to achieve strong, sustained flapping or to glide gracefully using updrafts. In the water, these same muscles serve a different but equally vital purpose.
An eagle in the water will spread its wings out and push against the water, essentially using its wings as makeshift paddles. This motion propels the bird forward in a slow but steady manner. The movement is surprisingly coordinated, and the resemblance to the human breaststroke is uncanny. The eagle keeps its head above water, looks straight ahead, and aims for the shore.
Swimming is not an eagle’s forte, so the bald eagle breaststroke is not something you’re likely to see.
The process is energy-intensive and leaves the bird vulnerable to potential threats. The waterlogged feathers become heavy, making the task even more arduous.
However, the promise of a big meal may outweigh the risks, especially during breeding season when there are eaglets to feed. A large fish can provide sustenance for the entire family.
While the image of a bald eagle swimming might seem incongruous, it’s a vivid reminder of the surprising and often overlooked behaviors of the animal kingdom. Nature is full of examples of adaptability and resilience, and the bald eagle’s occasional foray into aquatic locomotion is a fascinating instance of this.
Want to see an eagle in action? Check it out:
Source: “Bald Eagle Does the Breaststroke” — Good Nature