Yesterday I noticed the coots were packed in a tight bunch not far from shore instead of spreading out as usual. Just after I passed them the sound of beating wings sliced through the morning quiet and I turned to see a bald eagle circling above the flock. We've seen him several times this year — he often perches in a tree by the lake watching for fish below. Once he squawked an apparent warning at us. Now he was menacing the coots. Each coot frantically flapped its wings so that the flock was one thrumming feathery mass of movement, but none of the birds tried to fly — they stayed in the same spot on the lake. The eagle suddenly dove and made several low passes inches above the coots but their beating wings meant he couldn’t get near enough to snatch one of them. He changed tactics and, just above the water, flew around the edge of the mass of birds, probably hoping to grab one on the outskirts of the group. No success there either.
Eventually the eagle abandoned the hunt and flew off over the tree tops. When I walked back along the path thirty minutes later the coots were peacefully murmuring and feeding again. When I’ve seen them in a tight huddle like this I assumed it was for warmth, but now I see it’s a great protective measure. If the birds had panicked and scattered, the eagle would almost certainly have caught one of them. By working together, they defeated him. I’m sure there’s a metaphor there somewhere but right now I’m just thrilled that I saw the spectacle.