Sometimes the best intentions can be misunderstood. This is exactly the case in Japan, where feeding stations were created to rehabilitate and restore the alarmingly low numbers of the Japanese red-crowned crane (there are an estimated eight hundred breeding pairs left, a number which has increased greatly over the last fifty years).
Corn is thrown out on a daily basis to help the cranes get through the long cold winter and to boost breeding in the spring, but occasionally fish are thrown out as well.
Enter the white-tailed eagles. They have cleverly seen that the cranes are being fed delicious, pre-caught fish, and wanted in on the action, so that’s what they did. They started hanging around the crane sanctuaries, keeping an eye on proceedings, and when they see the juicy fish thrown out onto the snow, they begin their decent. They move quickly and quietly, and to try catch the flocks of cranes by surprise so as to steal the fish with as little fuss as possible.
Many wary cranes eyes now keep an upward watch for these eagles, and let out a loud squawk when the eagles drop into the flock. Amplify this by one hundred birds all squeaking at the same time, and feeding becomes chaotic. For the most part, the cranes get the fish they need to make it through the winter, but a large portion goes (unintentionally) to sustaining the white–tailed eagle population.
I was leading a photographic safari to Japan earlier in the year, and managed to witness this fantastic interaction between the birds. It is a photographer’s heaven; there is more going on than any one person can photograph, leaving you glued to the action and clicking away like crazy. The eagles don’t have it all their own way however. As they make off with some freshly stolen fish, the carrion crows swoop in and start harassing the eagles, picking up the dropped pieces. It really is half an hour of madness that provides thousands of great images.
To join me on next years Japan: Winter Wildlife Safari, click here!