Woman captures video of bald eagle killing fawn
Julie Smith of Bloomer is a self-professed early bird.
"One of my favorite things to do is get up before dawn and watch the new day arrive," said Smith, 63, and a retired special education teacher. "So much interesting wildlife activity happens early in the day."
Over the years Smith's early-to-rise habit has been rewarded often, both at her Bloomer residence and at the vacation home she and her husband Richard own on Lake Noquebay near Crivitz.
She has videotaped tom turkeys fighting and song birds taking their first flights, for example.
Nothing, however, prepared her for what she observed just after daybreak on June 30.
About 5:30 a.m., Smith stepped onto the deck overlooking Lake Noquebay. The lake was calm and reflected pink tones from the sky.
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But an unusual motion in the water near shore caught Smith's eyes.
"At first I thought it could be a Canada goose, but something was different," Smith said. "Then I could tell. It was a fawn."
The young white-tailed deer was swimming parallel to the rip-rapped shore.
Deer are common sights in the woods and fields around Lake Noquebay, Smith said. But it was rare to see one in the water.
Smith raised her phone and began recording video of the unusual animal behavior.
The fawn passed under a dock and then emerged in plain view.
Seconds later, the placid scene erupted into a struggle of predator and prey.
A bald eagle swooped down and struck the fawn. As the fawn bleated, the big bird held on to the back of the young deer, eventually driving it underwater.
It's tempting to anthropomorphize such occurrences with descriptions such as "brutal" or "cruel." For the wild animals, it's a case of survival.
Smith continued capturing the video throughout.
"It was nature happening right in front of me," Smith said. "I knew I couldn't do anything about it. I was quite amazed by it, actually."
The video shows the eagle using its wings to keep its balance on its prey, then also flapping to bring the fawn to shore.
The eagle then released its talons from the deer and hopped up on a nearby overturned boat, Smith said.
"The big bird was looking around the whole time," Smith said. "I think it wanted to make sure nothing was going to try to steal the deer."
The eagle flew off after several minutes.
Smith went to tell Richard, who had been sleeping, about the incredible wildlife scene that just played out on their property.
Richard, 66, was surprised but not disbelieving.
Just a week prior, Smith said, Richard heard the story of a bald eagle killing a fawn in a neighbor's yard just a few hundred yards from the Smith's lakefront home.
"If it was any other time he might have said I was pulling his leg," Smith said. "We presume it was the same eagle in both cases."
The Smith's left the fawn carcass undisturbed where the eagle had placed it.
Bald eagles are considered "opportunistic feeders" and mostly prey on fish, rabbits and other small mammals, as well as carrion.
And while they regularly scavenge on deer killed in collisions with vehicles, it's rare for a bald eagle to prey on deer.
One occasion of bald eagle predation on a fawn was reported in 2012 from a study in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Over three years of the study, coyotes preyed on 22 fawns, outpacing bobcats (12 fawns), bears (four) and wolves (four) and bald eagles (one).
Bill Volkert, a retired Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources naturalist and bird expert, said big predators like eagles are curious and sometimes attempt to kill prey that is too big for them to carry.
The eagle on Lake Noquebay was fortunate, Volkert said, that the fawn was small enough and the bird was able to drag its prey to the nearby shore.
Smith's video was first posted Aug. 15 on the Green Bay Press-Gazette's website. Since then, it's gained attention far and wide, including from the National Geographic Society.
The video is the first known visual documentation of a bald eagle killing a deer in the Upper Midwest and perhaps beyond, according to archive searches conducted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
A bald eagle was seen soaring above the Smith's property often the rest of June 30. And that evening an eagle landed and began feeding on the fawn.
The bird of prey returned to the carcass for the next three days, when all that remained was a patch of hair and some bones, Smith said.
"I sometimes tease Richard and my three grandkids that if they don't get up early they'll miss things," Smith said. "I've got the video to prove that now."