When it comes to fighting for your food, a snouted cobra is a tough target. Just look at this rarely witnessed skirmish between one of the venomous snakes and an avian assailant, the aptly named brown snake eagle.

The incredible footage was taken by tourists Matthew McCreesh and Catherine van Eyk during a visit to South Africa's Kruger National Park. The pair first spotted the eagle rustling about in nearby bush, talons firmly gripping the snake's head. 

"I'm so glad we managed to see this before we left," van Eyk told Latest Sightings, who uploaded the video to YouTube. "We actually thought the snake was dead in the beginning as it wasn't moving, so we couldn't understand why the eagle hadn't started eating it."

After a tense 45 minutes, the eagle released its catch, perhaps assuming the snake was no longer strong enough to fight – and that is where the video kicks off. "Once the snake had enough room and its head was free, it lifted up its head and opened its hood – the eagle got such a fright!" van Eyk recalls. 

Brown snake eagles (Circaetus cinereus) are the largest of the snake eagles, tipping the scales at up to 5.3 pounds (2.4kg) and boasting wingspans of up to 5.3 feet (1.6m). As their name suggests, the sizeable birds feed almost exclusively on snakes and other reptiles. 

Contrary to some reports (and the dialogue in the video), this cobra is not spitting venom, but rather performing a threat display, complete with mouth-gaping mock strikes. 

"We both agreed it was the best sighting we've ever experienced – which is saying a lot, as we spend a lot of time in Kruger," van Eyk adds.

After a long and tiresome stand-off, the eagle made off without its meal. The snake reportedly lived to see another day, but McCreesh did notice a bleeding wound in its mouth from the initial strike.


Top header image: Steve Harris/Flickr