Photograph by Phoo Chan, Media Drum World
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Hovering above the eagle, the crow is actually mid-attack, experts say.

Photograph by Phoo Chan, Media Drum World

Crow Tries to Fight Eagle, Gets Free Ride Instead

New photos show a crow riding on a giant eagle. But the trip may have started as an attempt to pick a fight.

In another instance of one animal riding on another, photos from California-based photographer Phoo Chan show a crow nestled on a flying eagle's back. But the crow was likely looking to do more than catch a lift.

When close enough to land, the crow was probably mid-attack, explains Kevin McGowan, a biologist who specializes in crow behavior at the Cornell lab of Ornithology.

Birds are very territorial, particularly during the summer when their hatchlings are vulnerable. Crows (and many birds) seem to have a Napoleon complex—the mere presence of a larger bird incites heckling and mobbing. McGowan says territorial birds don’t normally get too close, but this particular crow probably found itself in the eagle's draft and settled in for the ride.

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Not worth the eagle's attention, it ignores the crow surfing on its back. 

"This would be kind of like a dog chasing a car and jumping up" on it, says McGowan. "Dogs always want to catch the car, but they never know what they'd do if they get it."

But why didn't the eagle react to the crow landing? Since the crow wasn't pecking, it didn't warrant the eagle's attention.

As the largest birds of prey, eagles are harassed nonstop by birds of all species. Sometimes the hecklers are so persistent, it looks like the eagles "are being followed by mosquitoes," says McGowan.

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Crows are excellent at adjusting their wings to respond to small changes in the breeze.

There is little doubt, then, that these photos are real. They are "not particularly surprising," says McGowan.

Chan's photos capture the entire sequence of events, suggesting the event actually happened, says Mallory Benedict, an assistant photo editor at National Geographic.

Besides, who wouldn't want to fly on the back of an eagle?

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The crow rests a moment on the eagle's back before launching back into the air.

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