Outdoors blog

THURSDAY, JAN. 2, 2014, 7:59 A.M.

Soaring eagle numbers a mystery at Lake Coeur d’Alene

Bald eagle
Bald eagle

UPDATED  10:35 a.m. 1-2-14

WILDLIFE WATCHING -- Just when it seemed the annual winter bald eagle count was going to stall at Lake Coeur d'Alene, the number soared to 217 eagles on Monday. 

Carrie Hugo, a U.S. Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist, can't officially peg the exact reason the eagles came so much later than usual for their feast of spawning kokanee in the Wolf Lodge Bay area of the lake.  From mid-November through mid-December, about half the number of eagles had shown up compared with counts in recent years.

At the end of December, the eagle gathering usually starts to thin out as the spawn subsides and ice covers more water. This season, the numbers increased and the biggest gathering of eagles of the year is at the lake this week. 

The numbers are up from Hugo's last count on Dec. 18, when she found 129 bald eagles in the Wolf Lodge Bay area. That was up from 86 eagles the week before that, according to Hugo's weekly count.

Of the 217 eagles counted Monday, 196 were adults and 21, juveniles, Hugo said, theorizing that many of the eagles were short-stopped from reaching Lake CdA by the revived kokanee spawning in Granite Creek at Lake Pend Oreille. Bayview residents, who view the Granite Creek area by boat, say the number of bald eagles there may be 10 times higher than last year. 

However, by New Year's Day, the larger number of eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene wasn't apparent to Spokane photographer Craig Goodwin:

  • The increased count was a real mystery to the photographers who were out there yesterday. Based on our observations the numbers were the same or lower than they were two weeks ago. I was out there last year with 200+ birds and there were no where near that many yesterday. In my opinion the numbers aren't soaring nearly as much as the count indicates.

For decades, the eagles have provided a popular wildlife-viewing attraction as the birds are lured to the northeast corner of the lake from mid-November into January to feast on the spawning kokanee that stack up in the bay.
Despite the recent increase, eagle numbers are down from the past few years. The Dec. 18 count of 129 compared with 260 during the same time period last year.


The Spokesman-Review has set up a web page where readers can upload some of the great images they're snapping of eagles at Lake Coeur d'Alene.  Check it out, especially Tim Colquhoun's map of the best eagle viewing areas at the northeast end of the lake.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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