Cumberland Plateau, "Big Bird!"

by Sheila
(Knoxville, TN)

Hello Ladies and Gents,

I keep an eye out for birds but I am not a bird watcher. I guess I am simply a keen lover and observer of nature and my own natural surroundings. Anyway, I try to keep a look-out for any animals along my path and so it was with great joy that I recently had a close encounter with a "Big Predatory Bird," up on the Cumberland Plateau. It was last Saturday (11/10/2012,)while traveling from Knoxville, TN to Cookeville, TN. I had already passed the Crossville exits and was approaching the edge of the plateau as it starts its descent toward Monterey.

I observed a black object, I now assume was some type of recently hit animal,not moving that I could see, beside the Interstate highway. Still in front of me with its wings tucked and approaching at a swift speed, I saw what I assumed to be a vulture, heading straight for the animal by the road. I thought to myself, he is just going to come to a hopping stop and take his leisure with a early afternoon snack by the side of the highway. Not a great idea for any animal on the Interstate but I have seen vultures on the Interstate feeding, if they are hungry enough, so I was not overly concerned. But that is not what happened. The bird's speed did not slack, instead he seemed to speed up. It was not until his wings came out from his side that I realized that this was not a buzzard, but some type of huge raptor. His head was feathered, his wing span was almost the whole of my windshield and his speed and agility, in the air, was breathtaking. His talons scooped up the prey on the side of the highway and he was above my windshield in two beats. He was so swift that I only barely had to brake my car before his wings took him, or her, out of harms way. He was traveling at car roof height and I could clearly see his back, his wings and tail as they were positioned to land in the grassy median to enjoy his snack that he has expertly extracted.

The bird of prey was very non-descript, in varying shades of brown. If there were black bars they were not in evidence against the dark brown feathers. Markings most resembled a juvenile golden eagle as I did not see any white feathers except when he was tail down to land in the median he, or maybe she, had white feathers at the dock where the body meets the tail, (so downy feathers underneath?) I have heard that there are bald eagles on Dale Hollow Lake, which I guess isn't that far for such a large raptor's territory but why hunt in such a dangerous area?

Anyway, I am hoping to find someone else who also saw the bird at the same time or any other time. If there had been another car or truck to the left of me when he made his move, the outcome might have not been in his favor as he was truly swift and he had surely done this before. He grabbed his prey and managed to out maneuver a car going 65mph at the same time. It was impressive! I hope someone else saw it.

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