‘Steering the ship’: Photographer captures blackbird on top of eagle in Nanaimo

'Steering the ship': Photographer captures blackbird on top of eagle in Nanaimo
Photo: Tom Pawloski
A Nanaimo photographer captured this image of a red-winged blackbird on top of an eagle in Nanaimo, Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

A Nanaimo man is taking his passion for wildlife photography to new heights as he marvels at his picture of a bird on top of another bird mid-flight.

Tom Pawloski says he captured the photo of a red-winged blackbird and an eagle about two weeks ago when photographing birds along Jingle Pot Road near the Millstone River.

“There’s a marsh down there, so I’m pretty sure that’s a red-wing blackbird protecting its baby. I think that’s exactly what happens,” said Pawloski. “It was probably attacking the eagle from above and just hopped on there for a short time.”

Though the photo was taken in mid-June, it wasn’t until just a few days ago that the bird enthusiast shuffled through his image gallery to stumble across the lucky shot.

“I just looked at it a few days ago while editing,” Pawloski told CHEK News, noting he’s taken a liking to photography in recent years. “That is definitely my hobby these days.”

He was so in awe of his photo that he posted it to a local photography group on Facebook, where commenters raved.

“Perhaps red-winged blackbirds’ alternative to ferry travel,” wrote Pawloski, though jokes aside, it’s something he’s never witnessed before, and he’s glad he finally did.

“But people have told me that this happens, especially around nesting time when I’m sure there are plenty of red-winged babies around,” he said. “I’m sure everyone’s aware of who the predators are out in the forest.”

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Yet Ann Nightingale says these sightings — a bird on top of another bird — are quite common.

“I have a similar picture, as a matter of fact,” said Nightingale, a bird expert with the Rocky Point Bird Observatory in Victoria.

“Basically, what you have are birds that recognize an eagle as a predator. They’ll do it with any bird they perceive as a predator,” she explained in an interview.

“Birds are incredible parents, and they will do anything to protect their young, including going after a much more aggressive bird. It’s trying to harass it to get it out of the area.”

Nightingale says it’s unlikely the blackbird hurt the eagle.

“The eagle is probably going, ‘You’re bothering me, kid,’ she said. “There is no harm the blackbird is actually going to do to the eagle. The eagle isn’t likely to go after a red-winged blackbird nest anyways. It’s too small potatoes, they’re more likely to go after a duck.”

Now that nesting season is winding down, “we’ll see less and less of these types of interactions are we head into July and August,” added Nightingale. “You can count on them again next spring.”

That’s when you’ll see Pawloski back out with his camera, marvelling at wildlife some more.

“You look at the eagle, it’s very symbolic for a lot of people,” he added. “And the little guy is steering the ship, so to speak.”

Ethan MorneauEthan Morneau

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