Death by Shopping (Bag)

I witnessed something last week that was (to me) both interesting and saddening … a case for reusable shopping/grocery bags if ever there was one.

I had just pulled in at Quidi Vidi lake to enjoy a coffee and scan the gulls from the comfort of my car when there was a sudden, mass flush. Every gull on the lake lifted off, suggeting the arrival of a large raptor – and at Quidi Vidi, that usually means a Bald Eagle. This is a regular occurrence at the lake, where eagles soar in several times a day to look for a free lunch. While it may come as a surprise to some, Bald Eagles can be opportunistic scavengers – we usually see them honing in on an already dead gull rather than actively hunting. That’s why it was a surprise when I glanced up to see an immature eagle banking sharply overhead and making an almost aerobatic dive at a Great Black-backed Gull – and even moreso when it actually struck the gull and drove it down to the ice.

Now, this in itself would not bother me at all – I’m not too soft-hearted to accept that killing and eating is part of nature. In fact, I’d normally feel somewhat honoured to witness this otherwise “rare” event … but not in this case. At that moment, I realized that the poor gull had a plastic grocery bag wrapped around its leg and was not able to fly properly – a sitting duck, so to speak. It didn’t have a chance as the eagle bared down on it … all due to a piece of litter. And there are billions of those plastic death-traps out there, creating all kinds of havoc and causing cruel and unnecessary deaths. We’ve all heard the stories of how they get caught up in bird wings, tangled around the necks of small animals, and swallowed by sea turtles that mistake them for jelly fish. Estimates suggest that nearly a million birds and 100,00 marine animals die from plastic bags each year!!

This unfortunate Great Black-backed Gull was an easy meal for a Bald Eagle, unable to escape with a plastic grocery bag entangled around its leg. It did put up a valiant fight, though.- Photo: Jared Clarke (February 2013)

Despite putting up a valiant fight, this unfortunate Great Black-backed Gull ended up making an easy meal for a Bald Eagle. With a plastic shopping bag entangled around its leg, it was unable to escape an earlier mid-air attack.
– Photo: Jared Clarke (February 2013)

I managed to capture a few photos of this unfortunate gull fighting back, trying its best to drive away the much larger eagle. But with the plastic bag slowing it down as it tried to fly and the injuries caused when it was first pinned to the ice, it was all in vain. It eventually just sat on the ice, and moments later slumped over in defeat – all with the eagle standing watch a few feet away, waiting for lunch to be served. I didn’t have what it took to photograph the rest.

Just one more sad story brought about by human garbage …

… unless of course, you’re the eagle.