bald eagle
Bald eagles are fearsome hunters and are known to have powerful talons- Representational ImageCreative Commons

Eagles are among the most fearsome birds of prey and an unlucky fox learned this the hard way.

The whole episode lasted only about 10 seconds, but that was intense and likely left the fox with a life lesson it will not soon forget. Photographer Kevin Ebi of Living Wilderness witnessed a rare display of kleptoparasitism – animals stealing food and prey from other animals – from a bald eagle.

The incident occurred in San Juan Island National Historical Park in Washington State, notes ScienceAlert. A young red fox hunting in the fields had managed to snatch a wild rabbit. While this is a pretty standard thing to happen, the photographer says that just then, he heard the screech of a bald eagle directly above him.

The eagle wanted the rabbit for a meal.

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"Behind me, I heard the cry of a bald eagle," Ebi wrote on his blog. "I turned around and saw it approaching fast. I knew it wanted the rabbit."

While the cry of an eagle is normally enough to deter most creatures who resign themselves to what is coming and scurry away, this little fox was apparently in no mood to give up. The eagle swooped in from the sky and came down on the fox that still had a firm grip on the rabbit.

The entire scene became all the more dramatic when the bird sank its talons into the rabbit that was firmly lodged in the fox's jaw. Perfectly threading its razor-sharp talons into the rabbit, the eagle started its ascent.

The fox, it seems, was in no mood to let go. After all, the eagle cannot lift him off the ground right? Wrong.

The eagle not only manages to pick him up, the struggle that followed actually had the animals do a cartwheel in the air.

"Instead, the fox, with its jaw still clenched on the rabbit, inadvertently got snagged by the bald eagle," Ebi explains. "The eagle lifted the young fox and rabbit into the sky triggering an even more dramatic struggle."

Now airborne, the three animals (the rabbit was probably dead by this time, even if he did manage to survive the fox bite) cartwheel through the air. Ebi explains- "The kit (young fox) put up quite a fight, swinging back and forth."

"The eagle transferred the rabbit to its right talon and eventually let the fox go. The fox fell from enough height to trigger a small dust cloud when it hit the ground."

The fox, though visibly shaken by the encounter, was fine, says Ebi. The animal was snatched up off the ground, cartwheeled in mid-air and then slammed to the ground from at least 3 meters high. He then went and continued to play with other kits nearby. "This is by far the most incredible bald eagle hunting encounter I've ever seen," he added.

If an eagle is swooping down on a prey that you might be clutching, the wisest course of action would be to let go.