The eagles have landed (on a Florida golf course)

Two of America’s territorial national birds found locked together at Lone Palm Golf Club before separating, with help from a golf course superintendent.


Filed to: Florida, Wildlife

Aaron Jeffery and eagles
Aaron Jeffery interacts with a pair of embattled eagles on the course at Lone Palm Golf Club in Lakeland, Fla. Photos courtesy of Aaron Jeffery

If Aaron Jeffery were big on symbolism, he might have been worried when a pair of bald eagles were reported down and possibly dying near the second green of Lone Palm Golf Club — just hours before the United States locked up with Iran in a crucial World Cup soccer match.

A quick inspection proved both of America’s national birds were still very much alive, just like Team Red, White and Blue in the Cup.

Responding to a sighting of the grounded birds Tuesday morning at the course in Lakeland, Fla., Jeffery — the course’s superintendent and a seven-year GCSAA member — found them locked together behind No. 2 green.

“When I went up to them, it was obvious they weren’t dead or dying. They were fighting,” Jeffery says. “They were panting heavily. They had been going at it a little while. They were still locked in, very alert, but at the same time out of gas. They weren’t really paying any attention to us. They didn’t perceive us as a threat.”

Coincidentally, after the threesome that reported the birds rolled away, a single rolled up and fortuitously had the number for his brother-in-law, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist, pulled up on his phone. In a Facetime call, Jeffery was assured it was normal territorial mating-season behavior. Another call from a local FCS biologist “reiterated that this was nature happening,” Jeffery says. “They weren’t going to send anybody out, but she gave us a phone number for a rehab center. She said, ‘If this plays out like it usually does, one or both birds will be hurt.’ If something goes awry, she told us to call the rehab center and, since they’re eagles, they’ll come out, no questions.”

Jeffery, gloved, covered the eagles' heads per environmental expert instructions to assess their condition. Both of the eagles flew away uninjured.

Aaron Jeffery and eagles

Jeffery gloved up and covered the eagles’ heads to assess the situation. He determined they were not entangled in fishing line, and neither appeared to be bleeding.

“The guy from FWC said just let ’em be, that it would solve itself out,” Jeffery says.

But Jeffery “bullcharged” the birds with a golf cart, startling them enough that they turned each other loose and flew away.

“I guess,” he says, “they decided to fight again another day.”

Jeffery says eagles are a common sight on the 500-acre property, 388 of which is golf course.

“But this was very rare,” he says. “We see them weekly. You can hear them. But I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Jeffery says he wasn’t sure if the eagles decided to lock talons on the ground or if they crash-landed there after a “death spiral,” the term used when airborne birds lock each other up and spiral earthward in a territorial, aerial game of Chicken.

“From the looks of it, it doesn’t look like they’d fallen from the sky,” Jeffery says. “When the golfers rode up on them, they were on the ground. The way they took off and flew away, it doesn’t look like they were in any real pain.”

Andrew Hartsock is GCM’s senior managing editor.