Bald eagles are known for their tendency to steal meals from other predators, but sometimes the other predators put up a fight ...

On a recent trip to Washington’s San Juan Island, wildlife photographer, Kevin Ebi, trained his lens on a fox kit as it proudly paraded across the prairie – a freshly killed rabbit dangling from its jaws. It’s not unusual for foxes on the northwest island to prey on rabbits if nothing else is available; in fact, many believe that the carnivores were introduced to the area for the specific purpose of eradicating the invasive lagomorphs.

As Ebi panned his camera to keep pace with the kit, he heard the shrill call of a bald eagle and suspected that the sighting was about to get more dramatic. While working on his book, The Year of the Eagle, Ebi gleaned extensive knowledge of the two-toned raptors and knew that this bird was likely after an easy meal. Handsome, commanding and deadly – bald eagles are just about the embodiment of avian majesty, yet the skilled predators often resort to stealing meals from other hunters, rather than expending energy pursing prey.

“I intently trained my camera on the fox bracing for a split second of action,” Ebi wrote on his blog. “To my surprise, the scene was even more dramatic than I expected.” Just as the fox turned to assess the aerial threat, the eagle swooped, sinking its talons into the prized quarry and lifting it into the air with the kit still desperately clinging on.

“I thought the eagle would scare the fox into dropping its dinner,” the photographer explained to National Geographic. For a few tense seconds, raptor and fox tussled in the air for possession of the prey, before the kit admitted defeat, let go and was flung back to the ground.

Photographer Zachary Hartje managed to capture footage of the incredible interaction.

Fortunately for the fox, the airborne battle did not result in injury and it quickly resumed playing with its fellow kits. ”I took several pictures of it after the ordeal and couldn’t find a single scratch,” writes Ebi.

Though the bald eagle’s diet is made up mainly of fish, they aren't choosy when seafood is in short supply. They'll eat birds, turtles, small mammals, carrion, and even pick off vulnerable chicks from an unguarded nest. Their kleptoparasitic habits are widely known (Benjamin Franklin even recognised their reputation as food thieves), so it's not all that surprising to witness one robbing a fox of it's rabbit, however, capturing the action on camera is a rare treat.

“I don't know that I'll ever see anything quite that dramatic again,” says Ebi.

Top header image: Paul Malinowski, Flickr