Eagles at Goldstream
As the salmon run draws to a close, a new celebrity is arriving at Goldstream Provincial Park. From late November to mid-January hundreds of Bald Eagles flock to the park. Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to see these huge birds of prey. It’s an Eagle Extravaganza!
|A common sight just outside the Goldstream Nature House: bald eagles gathered in the cottonwood trees on a misty winter morning.|
Read on to find out:
- Why the eagles are at Goldstream
- Eagle viewing tips
- Interesting Eagle facts
- A Year in the Life of a Bald Eagle
- Endangered Eagles
- Best Eagle Viewing Times for the 16/17 Season
Eagles are opportunistic feeders and here for the tasty remains of the salmon run. As the winter rains flush the plethora of salmon carcasses down stream into the estuary, it creates an irresistible all-you-can-eat buffet that attracts hundreds of eagles to Goldstream.
Look for: All Bald Eagles have the large hooked beak and sharp intimidating talons characteristic of birds of prey. Mature Bald Eagles have a white head and tail, with a yellow beak and feet and brown body. Young (Juvenile) bald eagles are brown, have a brown beak, with white-blotched wing linings, and older youngsters have blotchy bellies as well. Young Bald Eagles are sometimes mistaken for adult Golden Eagles, which have golden feathers at the nape of their neck and fully feathered legs. If you are unsure, a quick peak through your binoculars at the neck and legs, will clear up any confusion.
Listen for: high pitched squeaky “kleek-kik-ik-ik-ik” that has been compared to a rusty clothesline. Bald eagles are most vocal when they are threatened, annoyed or mating. The noble sound that many people recall from the movies is actually the call of the red-tailed hawk!
Eagles are sensitive to noise and disturbances. The appearance of people may prevent them from feeding on the carcasses of salmon and they can waste valuable energy and time fleeing human intruders. In the past, there was a path that allowed visitors to Goldstream to get closer to the estuary. It was washed out in a big storm and the park didn’t have the funding to replace it. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Less people in the estuary equaled more eagles! People are no longer allowed in the estuary to create a comfortable space for the feeding eagles. Turns out this is a better situation for us too, as we get an opportunity to see these majestic birds in high numbers and up close!
Bald Eagles need:
ü A reliable source of salmon or other animal food
ü Free-flowing water
ü Tall trees for nest sites and viewing potential prey
ü Privacy for nesting, feeding and rearing young Bald Eagle
ü Binoculars and/or a camera with a good zoom
ü Good timing. The best time to see eagles is during low tide when lots of salmon carcasses are exposed in the estuary
ü Warm, waterproof clothing
ü Respect for eagles needs. Don’t get too close and keep voices quiet.
ü To leave your dog at home (if a feeding bald eagle is disturbed, they won’t return to that carcass for up to an hour, wasting their invaluable energy.)
ü To visit the Goldstream Nature House. Naturalists are always on hand to answer your any of you eagle questions. Check out our amazing displays and warm up with a cup of organic coffee. Don’t forget you wallet – there is a fabulous bookstore and gift shop.
Standing Tall: As with most birds of prey, female bald eagles are larger then males. Females can reach a height of 1.1 meters, with a wingspan of 2.3 meters and weigh up to 15 pounds! Males are smaller, reaching an average height .8 meters, with a 2.1 meter wing span and weighing around 9.5 pounds.
Live Long and Prosper: Eagles live an average of 10-20 years in the wild, and have been known to live up to 50 years in captivity. On average, only 50% of chicks survive to their first year and only 10% survive to maturity (4 - 5 years old when they acquire the characteristic white “bald” head)
Tools of the Trade: Bald Eagles are birds of prey and are well equipped for the job. They have a sharp hooked beak for ripping and tearing meat and sharp talons for grabbing prey. They also have “eagle eyes”, keen eyesight which helps them spot their prey from a high perch.
What’s for lunch? Eagles are predators; which means they dine on red-blooded, living prey. Skilled hunters as well as scavengers, they enjoy a diverse menu, and will eat almost anything of nutritional value. They prey primarily on fish, then waterfowl, small and larger mammals. Scavenged meals include winter killed deer and elk, carcasses of spawning salmon, and even the remains of stranded whales and dolphins.
Love Birds: Eagles mate for life (monogamous) and will return to the same spot year after year to rear their young.
December-January: “An All-You-Can-Eat Buffet”
Eagles congregate along rivers to feed on spawning salmon during the fall and winter. Normally territorial and solitary birds, this is the only time of year that they meet in such large numbers. It is a time for feasting, and maybe even finding a mate.
Mid to Late January: Getting the Urge to Nest
Most Bald Eagles will leave their wintering grounds to return to their usual nesting sites or search for an optimal location. Prime bald eagle real estates aretrees over 300 years old and offering a room with a view! Bald Eagles are monogamous, meaning they mate for life and will continue to use and build upon the same nest year after year. Eagle pairs are defensive of their territory, but where food and habitat resources are abundant they may nest closer together. Eagle “suberbs” are rare, though. Usually there is 1.5 km – 3 km between nest sites.
February-March: The Miracle of Life
After days/weeks of building/renovating, the nests are ready to be occupied. Bald Eagles can lay between 2-3 eggs, but usually just one. IF 2 or 3 are laid, it is typical that only one survives… in an act of sibilcide, the eaglet to hatch first may push the other eggs out of the nest. If they hatch out at the same time, the one to cry the loudest for food will probably be the one to get all the food…
Spring/Summer: The Teachings begin!
Mom and Dad work hard to teach their young everything they know, from flying lessons, to nesting, to ocean fishing. The juvenile bald eagle has a lot to learn before they mature themselves (4-5 years before signs of white head and white tail) and start passing on their knowledge.
Fall: In the Salmon’s wake
The ringing of the salmon’s biological clock is the sound of the dinner bell for eagles and they start congregating around salmon rivers all the way up the coast. They migrate from their summer nesting and rearing grounds to their wintering grounds. Get out your binoculars! Eagle viewing season is coming up!
The Bald Eagles presence at Goldstream is even more special because they have the unfortunate prestige of being on the Endangered Species List. The blame sits squarely on the shoulders of humans, which also means that we have the power to protect them! Today, it is illegal to hurt or kill a bald eagle and efforts are being made to preserve their habitats. You can help make their time here at Goldstream as calm and relaxing as possible by following the viewing tips above.