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Bald Eagle Viewing

By Murray Lundberg and Ellen Scott

Dateline: November 20, 1998.

Part 1: Natural History of Bald Eagles

Eagle at Haines, Alaska - finishing off a salmon along the Chilkat River Getting ready to feast on a salmon clutched in his talons. Click to enlarge.
      The American Bald Eagle (Haliacetus leucocephalus) is of course the national emblem of the United States of America. Ben Franklin had proposed the wild turkey but was over ruled in favor of this majestic bird of prey. The life of this bird, however, has been precarious over the past centuries, often being slaughtered in the belief that they cause undue competition in the fishing industry.

      Bald eagles in the lower 48 states were an endangered species until recently. Their status has been upgraded to threatened, largely as a result of extensive recovery efforts. While numbers are recovering, they are not out of the woods yet, and efforts are continuing to ensure their total recovery.

Eagles dive-bombing each other along the Chilkat Rver at at Haines, Alaska Dive-bombing such as this is dramatic, but seems to be all done for fun, as they certainly don't need to fight over food. Click to enlarge.
      Eagles disperse across the North American continent in the summer to raise their young, but when winter comes, they gather in huge flocks, usually in small areas, to take advantage of spawning salmon and other fish. The sight of the eagles, ten or twenty to a tree is jaw-dropping. They look ungainly and out of balance to the huge trees that support them and a sense of nature's beauty is overwhelming.They perch high to watch for feeding opportunities and eagles are very opportunistic. They steal food from other birds of prey such as the osprey, scavenge, and on occasion will actually hunt their own food.

      Eagles are seldom found far from water in any season. Fish is their food of choice but inland, before the water freezes solid for the winter, they will take ducks and small mammals. Once the water freezes, they make their way to traditional gathering places. Common places for eagles to gather in winter are:   Haines, Alaska, Brackendale, British Columbia; the Mississippi River Valley between Minnesota and Arkansas; and in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.

      To see and learn much more about bald eagles, check the links below. Wherever you go, Ellie and I promise you that the sight of hundreds of Bald Eagles along a river will be etched into your memory for a lifetime - photos just don't do this amazing sight justice!

Bald Eagle Links & Books

The Eagles of Haines

The Eagles of Brackendale

References & Further Reading:
  • Three River Junction: A Story of an Alaskan Bald Eagle Preserve by Saranne D. Burnham and Tom Antonishak (Soundprints, 1997)

  • The Bald Eagle: Haunts and Habits of a Wilderness Monarch by Jon M. Gerrard and Gary R. Bortolotti (Washington: Smithsonian, 1988)

  • The American Eagle by Tom and Pat Leesen (Beyond Words Publishing, 1995)

  • Bald Eagles: Their Life and Behavior in North America by Art Wolfe and Donald Bruning (New York: Crown, 1997)

  • Valley of the Eagles (video)

All photographs are © 1998-2024 by Murray Lundberg, and are not to be copied or reproduced in any form without permission.

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