golden eagle

Last weekend, I suddenly started getting a flurry of notifications from Flickr, the popular photo-sharing site which I use mainly to store the photos I post here. Out of the blue, people were favoriting a 2007 photo of a golden eagle with talons outspread.

eagle talons

It was part of an annotated set of photos of a golden eagle that had been trapped, fitted with a radio transmitter, and released on our property (see my blog post at the Plummer’s Hollow site and my mother’s much more thorough column).

I clicked through to the Flickr stats page, which I rarely remember to look at. Here’s what I saw:

Reddit viewer attention spans

Wherever people were coming from, they clearly weren’t taking the time to browse through the whole set. I scanned down to the list of referring sites and saw that the aggregator site Reddit was the culprit. Someone had posted the link to the pics section, and it had gotten enough up-votes to briefly land on the Reddit front page. This resulted in a highly amusing and somewhat revealing comment thread there, which I’ll get to in a minute. But first, for the uninitiated: what’s Reddit? A recent article at Slate should get you up to speed.

Reddit has become the most exciting place on the Web in the last few months, the center of an earnest yet jokey brand of cultural and political activism. … [W]hile Digg is all but dead today, Reddit not only survived the social media shift but has thrived in the age of tweets. Reddit’s traffic has exploded over the last few years—in 2011, visits doubled, and in December the site recorded 2 billion pageviews. It did so by turning inward, and by becoming more than just a place that amasses links to outside sites. On most days, the most popular posts on Reddit consist of stuff that Redditors themselves created or captured to share with other Redditors: image macros, animated gifs, pictures of cats, extremely geeky cartoons, weird Photoshop memes, and Facebook found art. There’s a lot more substantive stuff, too, including two discussion forums that I find consistently fascinating.
The Great and Powerful Reddit: How the site went from a second-tier aggregator to the Web’s unstoppable force,” by Farhad Manjoo

So this is a loose-knit online “community” of mostly progressive and/or libertarian, politically active geeks. What would they make of the photo?

Some shared links to other photos and videos of eagles, and many focused on the hunting or killing potential of the talons. “I’m certain plenty of eagles are capable of killing humans,” said a user called wackyninja. “Considering a Golden Eagle will prey on small deer, I’d say that yes, they could kill a human,” AdmiralSkippy agreed. (Golden eagles have been known to take, or attempt to take, very large prey indeed.) “Here’s a picture of batman riding a shark while holding a lightsaber,” cheetahlip chimed in.

“That is a beautiful fucking bird,” opined bang_Noir. Some other Redditors got into a somewhat arcane discussion of what it might be like to have an eagle land on one’s arm. Bigcitycrows, apparently a falconer, wrote:

If you ever want to know what it feels like to have a bald eagle land on your arm, put on the thickest glove you can find, then gently rest your car door closed on your forearm through the glove. Again SLOWLY and lightly push the door. It feels weird and far-off, because it’s through the padding, but a painful increase in pressure. If you want to know what it feels like to have a golden eagle lose her footing and hold on for dear life trying to regain it, swing the door closed.

A number of other comments amused me for one reason or another:

“That Owl, Looks surprisingly happy.” Reply: “Which is why that picture is so goddamned creepy.”

“I’m still impressed they can catch prey so well. I never had any luck with those talon thingys at the arcade.”

“That is such a marvellous bird. The head is pure design win.”

“Polly want a small furry mammal?”

“You’re on the front page way more often than should be possible.”

“Talons be with you.”

“I really am surprised that all other birds just haven’t committed suicide knowing they might be compared to an eagle at some point. All kinds of eagles are friggin’ monsters!”

“So long as they don’t figure out how to use door handles, we’re safe.”

“And here I was, just scared of bears. (looks up)”

“What a cutie :)”

“I guess I’ve never seen an up-close image of an eagle or something because I just stared at this shit for 20 minutes.”

“Damn nature! You scary!”

“Where is your god now?”

“That’s some straight up gangster shit”

“I handled birds of prey like this once for high school conservation club. Birds are incredibly intimidating at first, but once they trust you, they’re all like, ‘Yo.'”

“I saw Golden Eagle and instantly thought of Angry Birds”

Fear and awe mingled readily with humor, which is as it should be, I think. I was a little disappointed by how many people seem to see the world exclusively through the lens of Hollywood and video games, but on the other hand there was no shortage of commenters who clearly knew something about birds, dinosaurs, or both. One definitely gets the impression of overlap between nature-nerdism and general geekery.

I’m grateful to the Redditors for linking to the photo (more than once, apparently) and providing such amusing commentary. But as a blogger, it’s not the kind of audience I’m looking for. Judging from the stats, a vanishingly small percentage of viewers took the time to look at any of the other photos in the set. None of them left comments there — if they had anything to say, in the usual social-media pattern they went back to where they found the link and commented there.

Still, it’s kind of nice to know that that many people can still be moved by the site of a wild creature. I’d like to think it stirs something primal in the human breast.