When this man was surrounded by eagles, he did what most would never dare to do.
One morning, a young fisherman named Jesse Peck was going out on his boat to work. It was natural to presume that Jesse would be predominantly interacting with marine life, given his career at one of the largest yielding fishing ports in the United States. However, this fateful day, Jesse was in for a big surprise from the skies, not from the deep blue sea.
How he responded to the situation was both impressive and daring. Like most fishermen in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Jesse was well accustomed to the odd bird flying past when he raised his nets. With the amounts of scraps and bits of fish that fell to the floor of the boat, the scent of fresh food would be potent for any nearby birds of prey. Such was the case when he set sail one day, only to be followed by a real-life bald eagle.
Jesse and his colleagues were fishing for waterfowl rather successfully that week. They brought up big yields of fish out of the ocean water and into containers on the boat. After a particularly large haul, the bald eagle began to circle overhead. It appeared to be hungry or possibly excited at the sight of the bird food buffet growing in size.
The fishermen stopped momentarily to observe the bird. Most of them were well accustomed to the presence of bald eagles, and so, like many Alaskans, they were able to keep their cool so the eagle would not be spooked away. Jesse grabbed a handful of scraps and placed them nicely on the railing of the boat. It was an offering, one that the bald eagle accepted gladly.
The bird flew down and perched momentarily on the railing as it gobbled up a few morsels. It returned to the skies immediately, and the fishermen returned to their work, assuming the exchange was over. A few minutes later, the men looked up from their work and gasped when they noticed that their new bald eagle acquaintance had summoned some friends.
Jesse laughed, joking that the eagles were duplicating again. The birds flew in a white circle above their heads. The people on the boat continued their work, though, and they spent another hour or so pulling up all the morning scraps. Periodically, Jesse would peek up to see if the eagles were still around. In that entire hour, the birds never flew out of sight.
During the lunch break, Jesse and his coworkers agreed that it felt wrong to only feed one of the bald eagles. So they grabbed some more scraps and laid them out on the boat for the birds to come collect. The eagles did not immediately land on the boat, opting to first test their environment. They flew close to the boat and then zoomed back up into the air several times before getting close enough to grasp some fish with their talons on their way by.
Like many Americans, Jesse felt a particular affinity towards bald eagles. They were impressive birds that had faced extinction several times in the last century but still managed to resist the threat. The bald eagle is, in fact, considered an endangered species, and many animal experts have been working to help preserve this beautiful bird.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition that the bald eagle is dangerously close to extinction worldwide, yet also being incredibly populous in certain regions of Alaska. Interestingly, in Dutch Harbor, the bird is essentially considered a pest. Eagles are aggressive and territorial, so these Alaskan residents have to navigate their town with consideration so as not to invoke the wrath of these large birds of prey. For instance, the post office was rumored to be burdened with an eagle nest sitting right above the door, making it difficult to send letters.
Many Southern Americans had a tough time wrapping their heads around this bald eagle as a pest concept because, in most other places, bald eagle sightings were rare and elusive. Yet in Dutch Harbor, they were frequent and common and rarely pleasant.
The fishermen sat on their break and watched as the three bald eagles swooped down to the boat over and over again to scoop up food. When all of the fish bits were gone, the eagles soared up high in the sky, and the fishermen struggled to keep them in their sights. It was disheartening to think the beautiful encounter had come to an end.
Jesse decided that this need not be the conclusion of the story. He went and got more handfuls of waterfowl and even some carrion to scatter across the deck of the ship. Jesse held a small bucket of fish scraps and sprinkled eagle food all around.
With the benefit of the video recording, Jesse then took the opportunity to interact with the large cloud of eagles surrounding him. He carefully started to coax the birds to land on the ship one at a time. The eagles landed and came close to Jesse, waiting hopefully for him to scatter food for them from his bucket. The video will confirm the eagles got very close to Jesse but refused to make contact with him during the feeding.
At first, it was only a brave bird or two that would actually come land on the boat. When the others saw that their kin landed safely, received food, and were then free to leave of their own accord, they became more bold.
It’s hard to imagine staying cool in the face of so many predatory birds, and yet Jesse maintained his calm and unassuming demeanor throughout the entire exchange. He got more confident as he saw the eagles responding so well. Jesse’s boss watched nervously as he started tossing food to the bald eagles perched further away, but the birds responded well and showed no real signs of aggression towards the fishermen.
Jesse turned to replenish his food bucket and faced a real shock when he turned back around: the handful of eagles were still milling about on the floor of the boat where he had left them, but the number of birds on the ship had actually doubled. Jesse looked over to see the railing where he’d originally left food for the first bald eagle he’d seen; it was covered with birds perched patiently.
Jesse’s friend behind the camera had the presence of mind to pan the camera to the side to show the exceptional congregation. It was truly a sight to behold. Maybe it was the overwhelming joy of the moment or an adrenaline rush that prompted Jesse to do what he did next.
The energy on the boat was electric at this point, as everyone knew that they were sharing a unique experience together. Jesse felt amazing and perhaps neglected to remember just how dangerous bald eagles could be. To his boss’s dismay, Jesse once more filled up his food bucket and strode confidently to the middle of the deck.
Eagles surrounded him from all sides, and the cool Alaskan air seemed to have pulled all the sound out of the air. It was quiet as all the fishermen held their breath and watched. Jesse squatted down, then he did something that shocked everyone. With an apparently low regard for his own safety, Jesse held a piece of fish in his hand and extended it out to the nearest bird.
Bald eagles were not known to eat out of human hands, but they were known to bite or attack people who came too close. Jesse made eye contact with the bird and held his hand out very still. This beautiful pause came next, where the eagle appeared to consider if it would let Jesse feed it. It froze and stared at Jesse.
A few seconds passed, and then the bird backed away, so Jesse tossed the food onto the deck for the bird to pick up. What an exceptional day that must have been for Dutch Harbor. Lucky for all of us, there was a camera that day, and so we can all watch Jesse’s bravery for ourselves. What a thrilling experience!
Would you ever be so brave as to stand among birds of prey with your hands full of fish? Would you have tried to feed the eagles from your hands like Jesse did? Tell us in the comments below.
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