By Naomi Klouda
Just as Mossy Kilcher’s Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival guests were arriving in the morning to view sandhill cranes on her farmed fields May 7, an eagle swooped down and killed one of the elegant birds in front of visitors.
As part of the annual shorebird festival, Kilcher opened Seaside Farm to guests for Cranes and Croissants, a 7 a.m. breakfast event for those hoping to view the cranes taking respite in fields overlooking the sea. Kilcher, a lifelong Homer resident, has welcomed the cranes to her farm for 30 years, and gives presentations on nesting songbirds and a crane bird tour.
“They come here to photograph the cranes, and several had already arrived,” Kilcher said. “Someone saw the eagle on the crane, blood and feathers everywhere. But it was too late by the time I saw what happened. It was dead, limp and warm.”
Kilcher said many people don’t believe eagles will take an adult crane, which can weigh up to 14 pounds. However, cranes are more vulnerable on the ground, with slow takeoff times to get airborne.
“There are more and more cranes every year, and there are also more eagles who harass them,” Kilcher said. “They were dive-bombing, trying to get this one pair, but hadn’t succeeded.”
Kilcher said she wonders if the two eagles are habituated to humans, because nothing she does intimidates them.
“This pair is particularly aggressive, and they finally got a crane,” she said. “Most (eagles) are shy, but these seem very used to humans. They fly several feet from me, over my head.”
The same pair of eagles, she believes, killed some chickens and pheasants recently. But to see them dive-bombing the cranes proved a new level of audacity for the predators.
Those who arrived for the Cranes and Croissant presentation didn’t get to see many cranes. They did have the poignant view of the dead crane’s mate “circling and calling.”
“It took off down East End (Road) and came back a few minutes later,” Kilcher said. “They mate for life, and sometimes they don’t ever mate again. That’s the sad thing about it.”
Kilcher also said she fears that word likely spread in crane circles that a crane was killed by an eagle, and now the cranes won’t return in their full numbers. Since the event, she has not seen many cranes land in her fields.
“For the past 30 years, they trusted me to be safe,” she said. “Cranes are intelligent. They don’t return to places, for example, where they’ve been shot at.”
Kilcher said she has counted up to 20 eagles down on the beach, playing with shorebirds in what seems to be a game of cat and mouse.
When she was growing up in the same area, eagles didn’t behave this way, she said. In spring, they took off to more remote locations, not sticking around and waiting for an easy meal.
Kilcher said she believes the eagles became an “industry” in Homer during the time they were fed on the Homer Spit by “Eagle Lady,” Jean Keene.
“At this point, the eagles are just unbalanced right now,” she said.
Kilcher is reporting the incident to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but beyond that isn’t sure what she can do to protect the cranes from predation.
“I really want to have the cranes trust my place and come here,” she said.