Cause of Pronghorn’s Wound; Yellowstone National Park

Photo of pronghorn doe that seems to have suffered some serious injury to her neck.

What happened to this pronghorn?

Only one person took a guess on what had happened to this pronghorn.  She guessed a bear.  A good guess.   I thought I’d get a few more people to venture a guess.  Maybe some were afraid to guess wrong.  That presumes I would be providing the answer to what happened though.  The fact of the matter is that I don’t know for sure what happened to her.  I do have my own guess though.  I think a golden eagle attacked this pronghorn.  Why?

First of all, golden eagles have been observed by credible sources (published reports by biologists) attacking and killing pronghorn adults and fawns.   The attach begins by the eagle chasing one or more pronghorns and landing on the back of one and riding it while digging its talons into the pronghorn’s back.  Most of the damage is caused by the talons, although their beaks can also inflict injury.  If you’d like to read some of these reports you can click here, here and here.

Second, someone took several photos of a golden eagle eating an adult pronghorn while riding on its back.  Based on the photos, I assume (and hope) it died shortly thereafter.  The pictures have appeared in various places on the internet.  One place to see the photos is here.  I should warn you that the photos are somewhat gruesome.  I was hesitant to link to the photos, but decided on balance to do so with the warning.  The wound to the pronghorn in the photos is in the same place as in my photo and that’s why I guess the wound is from a golden eagle.  Anything is possible though.  It could be from another animal or a vehicle or a barbed wire fence (or whatever).

She was feeding when I saw her so the attack was over by then.  I hope she survived.


About Jim Coda

I am a nature photographer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I specialize in photos of birds, mammals, and landscapes.
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10 Responses to Cause of Pronghorn’s Wound; Yellowstone National Park

  1. Charlotte Crackbon says:

    That, was a tough story to read for me. Hate to think about predators attacking these beautiful
    animals, but that is how they survive isn’t it? Never imagined an eagle attacking any deer. Glad you didn’t include any other pics. Always thought eagles hunted fish or rabbits or small rodents.

    • Jim Coda says:

      Hi Charlotte. Bald eagles feed primarily on fish. Golden eagles feed primarily on rabbits and rodents. Eagles are opportunistic. I think they’ll feed on whatever food they can get. They both feed on carrion. I’ve seen bald eagles on carcasses in Yellowstone many times and golden eagles a time or two.

  2. John Wall says:

    I read that eagles will also knock young bighorn sheep off cliff faces to kill them. Amazing that this little guy was able to fight off the attack. Since it’s still feeding in the photo, isn’t it possible he recovered?

    • Jim Coda says:

      Hi John. For a video showing one or more golden eagles attacking goats on cliffs click here. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether she recovered. I can’t really tell how serious her injury is. Infection may become a problem. Also, there could be some odor from it, but I don’t really know. I also photographed a buck with a similar wound (at least I think it’s a wound) on his back. It wasn’t nearly as severe looking, but the wound is in the same spot.

  3. Wow. I would have never believed a possible golden eagle attack without the pictures.

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