A Congress of Eagles

The West
  |  Gorp.com

It's only natural that one symbol of freedom, the bald eagle —should feel at home in another—the American West. The lakes, rivers, and wetlands of the western states provide prime feeding grounds for the majestic birds, and there are plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse of them soaring and diving in search of food.

The plentiful waterfowl that winter in the Bear Valley and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges in southern Oregon near the California border are the big draw for the huge population of eagles that spend December through February here. Approximately 300 birds, the largest concentration of wintering bald eagles in the lower 48 states, roost each night in the Bear Valley NWR. Although Bear Valley is closed to visitors during the winter, the raptors can be seen flying out to feed early each morning. Injuries and diseases weaken and kill many of the ducks and geese that winter in the Klamath Basin, and eagles survive the winter months by attacking and eating these stragglers.

North of there, on Washington's Skagit River, more than 450 eagles congregate at the time of the chum salmon spawn every January. The salmon die after spawning, and their carcasses provide nourishment for the hungry eagles. Many of the birds seek shelter in the thick stands of mature cottonwood, alder and bigleaf maple that line the river. Part of the North Cascades Highway parallels the river, so it's often possible to catch a glimpse of the soaring birds from the road. The Skagit View Trail at Rockport State Park is another favorite locale for birders.

Salmon—kokanee salmon, to be exact—are what draw more than 300 eagles to the area below the Canyon Ferry Dam on the Missouri River in Montana. Riverside Campground, located just below the dam at the headwaters of Hauser Lake, is a prime spot for viewing, as is the visitor center in Canyon Ferry Village at the north end of the reservoir. The salmon spawn, and the accompanying eagle convergence, happens from mid-October through early December.

The Woodruff Narrows Reservoir on the Bear River in southwest Wyoming attracts more than 200 bald eagles every winter. A large cottonwood complex here provides an ideal roosting location for the birds. From WY 89 north of Evanston enter Utah briefly. Then follow County 101 a half a mile back into Wyoming. Follow the road to the left for just under seven miles. Take the road to the left another two miles along a north-running fence. Some of this land is privately owned.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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