Epic tug of war sees eagle steal rabbit from hungry fox during mid air battle

This epic tug of war shows the very moment an eagle stole a rabbit from a hungry fox more than 20 feet up in the air.

The dramatic pictures show a red fox wandering around with a recently caught rabbit.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

Suddenly a bald eagle swoops in to try and claim the prize but the relentless fox clings onto the rabbit and is lifted more than 20 feet into the air by the eagle.

Eventually the fox is forced to let go and the eagle flies off with the rabbit in its clutches.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

The extraordinary moment was caught on camera by Kevin Ebi.

The nature photographer who runs a business called Living Wilderness, was visiting San Juan Island National Historical Park when he saw the dramatic scene unfold.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

The 44-year-old from Washington said: “There is no question that bald eagles are skilled hunters.

“They can spot a fish from a mile away and fly to it in under a minute.

“But they’re also masters of something scientists call kleptoparasitism: the art of stealing food from others.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

“A couple of days ago, however, I captured an especially dramatic act of thievery. I saw a bald eagle steal a rabbit from a young red fox.

“Even more impressive, this battle played out more than 20 feet in the air.

“I spent the day watching several young foxes, called kits, rest and play on the prairie. I counted at least eight kits. There are probably more.

“Shortly before sunset, they started hunting. One fox managed to snag a rabbit’s foot. Several kits gave chase, but it made it to its den to feed.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

“About 15 minutes later, a red fox caught a rabbit and was carrying it across the meadow. I panned my camera with it to capture the action.

“Then behind me, I heard the cry of a bald eagle. I turned around and saw it approaching fast. I knew it wanted the rabbit. I intently trained my camera on the fox bracing for a split second of action.

“To my surprise, the scene was even more dramatic than I expected. I thought the fox would drop the rabbit, giving the eagle an easy dinner.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

“Instead, the fox, with its jaw still clenched on the rabbit, inadvertently got snagged by the bald eagle. The eagle lifted the young fox and rabbit into the sky triggering an even more dramatic struggle.

“There have been stories of bald eagles taking off with animals as large as young deer, but while they’re strong, they’re not that strong.

“They can comfortably lift about half their body weight — so about five or six pounds. The young fox and rabbit were likely just beyond that weight.

“As you can see from the image sequence, the kit put up quite a fight, swinging back and forth.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

“The eagle transferred the rabbit to its right talon and eventually let the fox go. The fox fell from enough height to trigger a small dust cloud when it hit the ground.

“The whole battle was over in less than eight seconds.

“The fox was fine. It shook off the encounter and resumed playing with its fellow kits. I took several pictures of it after the ordeal and couldn’t find a single scratch.

“From what I’ve been able to research, this was a rare encounter. The managers of San Juan Island National Historical Park are eager to get rid of the rabbits because of their destructive ways and have studied potential predators.

“While the foxes will go after the rabbits if they can’t find something better, for the park’s eagles, 97 percent of their diet is fish and other birds.

Pic by Kevin Ebi/Caters News

“I thought I was going to capture one image. I thought the bald eagle would quickly snatch the rabbit from the fox and be on its way. I figured I had a split second to capture that one action-packed frame.

“I couldn’t believe that I was witnessing such a dramatic struggle. As the seconds ticked on, I wondered how it was all going to end.

“Eight seconds felt like an eternity. I had never witnessed such an action by a bald eagle — and I spent several years observing them for my book, Year of the Eagle.

“When the fox was back on the ground, my first instinct was to look at it through my lens, capturing images to see if it was injured.

“I was glad to see that it was okay. Then I scrolled back through my images, looking at them on my camera’s screen, thankful that I was able to track the action.”