K'gari tourist captures sea eagles in mid-air battle for snake

An expert has explained what's likely going on in the footage.

Tourists have captured on camera the incredible mid-air moment two eagles appear to fight it out over a snake at one of Australia's top tourist destinations. In the video from K'gari, two white-bellied sea eagles can be seen flying alongside a beach. The one in front has the snake's long body dangling from its claws when suddenly the second bird grabs the reptile and makes off with it.

The clip, which was filmed from a vehicle travelling along the sand, then captures both birds as they dive down into the bushes. But just as you think the first eagle is about to steal back its breakfast, the second bird drops down to the ground and the first keeps on flying out of the shrubs empty handed.

Two sea eagles fighting over snake on K'gari
Tourists on K'gari captured the moment a juvenile white-bellied sea eagle snatched a snake out of the claws of an older bird. Source: A. Cipak

Theory behind fascinating behaviour

Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW and a bird ecologist, believes we're witnessing a parent teaching moment. "It would be interesting to know whether those two birds actually had a relationship because it could be an adult male or adult female with the white on it [the first bird] and then the immature bird with the brown feathers [the second bird] might be one of their chicks that's grown up," he told Yahoo News Australia. "So it would be used to being fed by the adults and it could be that it's coming in to get the food that one of its parents has just got, and taking it away."

However, Kingsford added the pair seemed to be swapping the snake, indicating that maybe there's a bit of competition going on. "The adult could be saying, 'Look, you're old enough to go out and get your own food, I'm not gonna feed you anymore and I had it first’, but the younger one may still be at that stage where it's happy to take food from its parents," he explained.

"When they get to that sort of age where they need to go out and get their own food and territories, the adults basically kick them out of the nest, and there's quite a bit of competition between parents and offspring then."

What was for brekky?

As for what the pair of birds were fighting for, Kingsford believes it could have been a python. "There are many birds of prey, including eagles and falcons, that will take snakes and they're quite capable of doing that," he said. "It's a really useful food resource for them if they can find them."

He added that sea eagles will also take other birds and small mammals if they get a chance "because they're such big birds".

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