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I found this picture on Facebook:

Bald Eagle apparently flying upside-down

It definitely doesn't come from a particularly credible source (I F***ing Love Science), but I'm curious if that picture is genuine.

My mother claims that the legs, wings and head appear "unnaturally twisted" based on her past experience caring for Eagles and other raptors.

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    I think you also need to define what you mean by "fly upside down". Being able to briefly invert oneself during flight and being able to achieve sustained inverted flight are very different things. – KutuluMike Dec 1 '14 at 13:44
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    I wouldn't call I Fucking Love Science a not "particularly credible source". I think it's run by a single person, but I'm not aware of it promoting any bad information. It's perhaps not as reliable as some large organization, or certainly a peer reviewed journal, but big organizations don't always get it right. – David Conrad Dec 1 '14 at 17:50
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    A kind, but firm, reminder: Please do not post tentative answers in the comments. Comments are meant to improve the question and not answer it. – Sklivvz Dec 3 '14 at 12:38
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    @DavidConrad I would. But in honestly it was a while ago since I blocked them when I finally got tired of seeing all the sensationalist click-baits they were pushing out in my feed. Probably just like this picture of an eagle flying upside-down. – Alex Dec 4 '14 at 9:51
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    @Approaching I didn't mean I'd use it as a reference, just that I wouldn't automatically discount something because it had appeared on IFLS. – David Conrad Dec 10 '14 at 18:33
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This image can be attributed to Pam Mullens a Canadian wildlife photographer sometimes going by the pseudonym EagleHunter.

This image and other photos of eagles flying in interesting and unusual poses can be found on the eagle page of her portfolio site.

enter image description here enter image description here

enter image description here enter image description here


I contacted Pam and she had this to say on the subject:

I can tell you this image is real and not doctored in anyway. I have spent many years with Eagles and this air flip is something they do when hunting, it's not flying upside down, it is a flip that happens in a matter of seconds.

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    Accepted for putting the pose in context and for finding a primary source. Thank you very much! – ApproachingDarknessFish Dec 1 '14 at 19:10
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    "a flip that happens in a matter of seconds" - so it was just a well-timed shot, like I speculated. – Rob Watts Dec 2 '14 at 4:28
  • I'm curious - how did you find the source? – Floris Dec 22 '15 at 0:16
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    @Floris A reverse image search found the EagleHunter profile with a link to Pam's portfolio site. – Kelly Thomas Dec 22 '15 at 10:16
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    "I contacted Pam". Well done. – tedder42 May 22 '16 at 20:36
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It's definitely possible for an eagle to be upside down during flight.

Here's a Youtube video titled "Bald Eagle barrel roll". It shows some eagles playing or fighting or something and doing barrel1 rolls in the process. The picture you found could just be a well-timed photograph that happened during the middle of this eagle's roll.

Here's a gif showing a closer shot of a bird doing a roll mid-flight.

Do a barrel roll!

Here's one with bald eagles

Bald eagles dance

1. Might not technically be barrel rolls, but that doesn't really matter. You get the idea.

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    it's technically not a barrel roll but I'll leave the pedantics aside – ratchet freak Dec 1 '14 at 11:34
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    Note that "being upside down while in flight" may be a different matter from "flying upside down" as the querant intended the phrase to be taken... but I agree that this answers the "was the picture faked" part of the question. (And I suggest, as a compromise, that we all chill and just call it a "roll".) – keshlam Dec 1 '14 at 13:39
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    @JohannesPille - Keep it friendly ;) I think you've latched on to a throwaway comment a bit too harshly. (Related comment now deleted - have dealt with 2 flags for rude/unconstructive behaviour) – Jamiec Dec 1 '14 at 15:28
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    @ratchetfreak It makes me very happy that the See Also section of that page includes Star Fox 64. – KRyan Dec 2 '14 at 15:12
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    Judging from the dark patagial marks I'd say these are Red-tailed Hawks or a similar buteo. – JYelton Dec 4 '14 at 21:34
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This is a normal bird "thing". It's known as "whiffling":

Whiffling is a term used in ornithology to describe the behavior whereby a bird rapidily descends with a zig-zagging, side-slipping motion. Sometimes to whiffle, a bird flies briefly with its body turned upside down but with its neck and head twisted 180 degrees around in a normal position. ... This erratic motion resembles a falling leaf, and is used to avoid avian predators or may be used by geese (family Anatidae) to avoid a long, slow descent over an area where wildfowling is practised.[2]

I've seen it quite often, usually (in the case of our pond) when geese are coming in over high trees and want to lose altitude rapidly without gaining (much) airspeed. Apparently eagles do it for play/fighting (notice how the bird that rolls inverted sticks his legs up with talons extended). Kinda fun to watch.

The Goose flies upside-down article in the Belfast Telegraph has a photo of a goose doing it:

enter image description here

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protected by Community Dec 3 '14 at 11:33

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