For Amorous Bald Eagles, a ‘Death Spiral’ Is a Hot Time

When America’s national bird takes a mate, the two really do fall for each other—in a spectacular, plummeting courtship ritual.

Bald eagles, aka Haliaeetus leucocephalus, seem to be models of decorum. The raptors mate for life, unless one partner dies early. Year after year most return to the same nests. Birds in some so-called monogamous species still mate with other partners; bald eagles seem not to.

But when it comes to courtship, bald eagles put the wild in wildlife.

The maneuver above—known as the cartwheel display or death spiral—is chief among their “spectacular courtship rituals,” says wildlife ecologist David Buehler of the University of Tennessee. “The two soar up to high altitude, lock talons, and tumble and cartwheel toward Earth.” They let go before reaching the ground—except when they don’t. In 2014 two adult eagles, talons locked, were found tangled in a Portland, Oregon, tree. (They eventually broke free and flew off.)

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