BIRD WATCH: ‘Last chance’ for eagle viewing coincides with month of Valentine’s

VALENTINES AND EAGLES are a strange combination, but in February, thoughts of both are in many minds.

Bald eagles are thinking about nesting. It won’t be long before they begin to move away from winter feeding grounds and head for their nesting territories.

Many of the birds that dined on spawned-out fish during the winter move northward to nest in Alaska and parts of Canada.

This movement of eagles influences the movement of bird-watchers. Audubon chapters have for decades scheduled eagle-viewing field trips during January and February. It’s like your “last chance.”

This scheduling was more important in the 1970s and ’80s when the eagle population was at a low point. The Skagit area from the Flats up the river to Marblemount was the most popular destination.

Field trips focused on seeing the large numbers of eagles congregated to feed on the river’s salmon. They still congregate in that region, but there are eagles to be seen throughout Western Washington.

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge between Tacoma and Olympia supports bald eagles. The rivers flowing from the Olympics into Hood Canal or the Pacific Ocean make the Peninsula a popular eagle-viewing destination.

Many of us enjoy eagle activity near our homes. This hasn’t always been the case.

The increase in eagle numbers throughout Western Washington is a conservation success story. It began over five decades ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed eagles on the Endangered Species list.

During the ’60s, the use of DDT as well as habitat loss and hunting had almost eradicated bald eagles over most of the country.

DDT is a chemical pesticide. When it builds up in a creature’s system, it affects the ability to reproduce.

In the case of eagles, it causes their eggshells to break before they hatch. Their diet of fish was responsible for the buildup.

The outdoor use of the pesticide was banned in 1972 and eagle numbers began to rise. The figures on eagle populations today, both in Washington and across the country, are amazing.

During the ’60s, there were less than 500 nesting bald eagle pairs throughout the contiguous 48 states.

Today, there are over 5,000. It is estimated that every state now has at least a hundred pairs.

Previously, many had no breeding eagles. After the eagle was listed as endangered, a reintroduction program began throughout the country.

One figure lists the entire bald eagle population in all of North America is now about 70,000. Another source estimates that more than half of the world’s bald eagle population is in Alaska and British Columbia.

The states with the largest eagle populations, after Alaska, are Florida, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon.

While researching the eagles’ current status, some interesting facts surfaced. One was a major surprise for me.

Florida had the highest number of breeding pairs in all of the Lower 48 states. With nesting birds in 59 of 67 counties, the figure of 1,166 pairs is impressive.

A second surprise was learning that Minnesota now has the distinction of having the most breeding pairs. That number is estimated to be about 1,312 pairs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the bald eagle from the federal Endangered Species list in 2007. Up until that time, eagle counts were taken on a regular basis. That is no longer the case.

Biologists suggest this bird is near carrying capacity in Western Washington. All of this is good news, but there will still be management decisions when it comes to habitat and discerning how large an eagle population can thrive in this region.

For now, Valentine’s Day is coming, and the eagles are wooing their mates.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

More in Life

OPEN’s Spring Tack Sale is Saturday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 251 Roupe Road (off Hooker Road). Proceeds benefit rescued horses, minis, ponies (such as the one pictured with grossly overgrown hooves) and donkeys. Western and English saddles, saddle pads, halters, sheets, bits, bridles; western jewelry, clothes, boots and more. (photo by Valerie Jackson)
HORSEPLAY: Clean up after yourself and your horse

CLEAN UP ON aisle 7! Remember: Unlike a grocery store clerk who… Continue reading

The Olympic Kiwanis Club reports that its recent electronics recycling event was even more popular than planned for.
Kiwanis recycling event a success

The Olympic Kiwanis Club reports that its recent electronics recycling event in… Continue reading

Future Chefs contest names cooking contest winners

Sodexo and the Port Angeles School District have announced… Continue reading

A GROWING CONCERN: Get the dirt on soil

SINCE WE TALKED extensively about you growing your own award-winning vegetables, we… Continue reading

ISSUES OF FAITH: Finding solace in song

WHEN OUR DAUGHTER Maggie died, I found so much comfort in listening… Continue reading

OUUF speaker scheduled

The Rev. Bruce Bode will present “Are All Humans… Continue reading

The Rev. Pam Douglas-Smith.
Unity in Port Townsend planning for Sunday services

The Rev. Pam Douglas-Smith will present “Love is Orange:… Continue reading

The Rev. Cindy Akana
Program scheduled for OUUF on Sunday

The Rev. Cindy Akana will present “Nurturing Your Inner… Continue reading

Andrew May/For Peninsula Daily News   
Now is the perfect time to lay down some rich, organic compost and rake in a high quality grass seed for a beautiful lawn come summer.
A GROWING CONCERN: Garden chore list grows in spring

SPRING HAS SPRUNG, the grass has risen, now’s the time to get… Continue reading

Some of the evidence recovered when they were arrested.
BACK WHEN: Jail break on the Olympic Peninsula

THE STORIES OF life and crime can take many twists and turns.… Continue reading

ISSUES OF FAITH: Be a bastion of truth against the onslaught of lies

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth… Continue reading

Weekend hybrid program planned

Ari Ostlie will present “The Wealth of Spirit” at… Continue reading