December 13, 2012 in Washington Voices

Once-endangered eagles make spectacular comeback

Pat Munts
 

Eagles like this golden or young bald eagle checking out a meal in the Spokane Valley are becoming a much more common sight in the Inland Northwest.
(Full-size photo)

Over the years I have told many stories about the wildlife we share our property with in the Spokane Valley. Well, we added another critter to the list a couple of weeks ago.

We were on our way to the airport early one afternoon. As we passed the large field below us, my husband jammed on the brakes and pointed into the field. There, less than 25 feet away, was an eagle eyeing the carcass of a deer that had been poached. We couldn’t tell if the bird was a golden eagle or a juvenile bald eagle that hadn’t developed its adult plumage. The eagle eyed us closely as if to say that it would really prefer to partake of a meal without gawking humans and cameras around.

It wasn’t so long ago that seeing eagles soaring over the Inland Northwest was a rare sight. The use of the insecticide DDT and hunting reduced the number of bald eagles in Washington to 104 breeding pairs in 1980. DDT caused egg shells to thin to the point that the developing chicks could not survive.

Fortunately, much has changed in the ensuing 30 years making our sighting of eagles a much more common treat. DDT was banned in 1972 and hunting of the birds was stopped with the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. With DDT out of the environment and federal protection for the bird, their numbers began to rise such that by 2005 there were 840 territories in Washington. Bald eagles were removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 2007.

Eagles have very keen eyesight; as much as four times more acute than humans. This makes it possible for them to drift slowly over their territory watching any movement of prey. For golden eagles, which prefer open country with cliffs, meadows and some forest, it means mice, rabbits, ground squirrels and birds. Bald eagles prefer to hunt along streams, lakes and larger rivers for spawned out salmon as well as small animals and birds. Both will eat carrion if other game is sparse. Bald eagles build huge nests of sticks in tall trees near water where they can watch for food. Golden eagles generally build their nests on protected rock ledges close to their hunting grounds.

This time of year many bald eagles are migrating away from their breeding grounds to follow populations of spawned out salmon. In this area they congregate around river deltas like Wolf Lodge Bay on Lake Coeur d’Alene and streams coming into Lake Pend Oreille to feed on kokanee salmon.

The best viewing areas are from Higgens Point and then the shoreline south from the Wolf Lodge exit off Interstate 90 on Highway 97 around to Beauty Bay. Keep in mind that parking space along the narrow road can be tight so carpooling is a good idea. Dress for the cold and bring your binoculars. The Coeur d’Alene Resort also offers two-hour cruises into Wolf Lodge Bay. Check their website www.cdaresort.com/ activities/lake_cruises for dates and times and to place reservations.

Pat Munts has gardened in the Spokane Valley for more than 35 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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