Nature photographer Jason McCarty shared a photo of a red-winged blackbird riding a bald eagle that quickly garnered praise.
CNN  — 

Amateur nature photographer Jason McCarty has always considered himself in sync with nature. But on a recent outing near his central Minnesota home, he captured an especially lucky shot.

“I talk to Mother Nature, and she talks back,” he said. “It’s a bond that’s hard to explain.”

The results are almost too cute to be real: A red-winged blackbird small enough to serve as a larger predator’s breakfast hitches a ride on the back of a bald eagle.

While the photo appears to portray an awe-inspiring instance of avian camaraderie, the truth of its circumstances are a bit uglier, McCarty said.

The bitty blackbirds are “very territorial,” he said, and aren’t afraid to attack far bigger animals – even menacing birds of prey and humans –who approach their nests.

McCarty watched the female bald eagle, whom he named Janice, pick up a fish to bring back to her eaglets, Leonard and Gary. She took a U-turn from the nest but flew a bit too close to the blackbird’s home turf. The tiny tyrant furiously took after her, set to attack.

The seething blackbird sank its wee claws into Janice’s back but clearly didn’t do much damage. The eagle matriarch flew away without a second thought, and the blackbird eventually let up.

Since McCarty shared the photo on Facebook, his post has been flooded with comments from users who say it’s doctored, a claim he vehemently denies.

“I’d never Photoshop,” he said. “That’s cheating.”

It’s not the only little bird with a mean streak

The feisty red-winged blackbird isn’t the only diminutive species willing to pick on bigger birds. Crows and kingbirds too defend their nests against vultures and great blue herons with aggression, Audubon field editor Kenn Kaufman says.

Their victims either fight back or, like Janice, ignore the tiny bullies, “just as [humans] might ignore a small dog yipping at our heels,” he said.