The eagles are back.
Each year from November to February, migrating eagles stop over at Lake Coeur d’Alene to feast on spawning kokanee. And their migration is all about the food, said Suzanne Endsley, public affairs officer for the Bureau of Land Management’s Coeur d’Alene District.
The birds fly to Coeur d’Alene because their food sources in British Columbia and Alberta are freezing over, she said. They stop here to feast on fish, then will continue south.
“We’re just kind of a pass-through point,” Endsley said.
But the stopover gives people an excuse to explore public lands, she said. Plus, “It gives them an opportunity to get out and see a national symbol.”
The BLM has been counting eagles visiting Wolf Lodge Bay since 1974. Over the past 20 years, the peak of the eagle migration has usually been in the third week of December, but this week, eagle numbers are lower than usual.
BLM biologist Carrie Hugo counted 123 eagles at the lake – 105 adults and 18 juveniles. Earlier this month, she counted 259. The record was set in 2017, as 383 eagles were counted the week of Dec. 20 that year.
Hugo and Endsley said they’re not sure why numbers were lower than usual this week. It could be that the kokanee spawning concluded earlier than usual or that weather made it so the birds were more difficult to see for the count.
And though this year’s count is low, it’s still a lot of eagles, Hugo said. Back in the ’70s, numbers were usually in the teens and 20s. The increasing numbers speak to the species’ success story after being designated an endangered species in 43 states in 1978, Endsley said.
Hugo said one of the best spots to watch eagles is at Higgens Point. To get there, eagle watchers can follow the bike path from the Beacon Point rest stop. “There are typically many eagles here, in the trees along the shoreline, and there is often active fishing,” Hugo said.
Another good spot is the Mineral Ridge boat launch. There’s lots of parking, and Hugo said eagles are often near the launch. While there, Endlsey said families will often hike the 3.3-mile Mineral Ridge trail, which she says is the best view of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
For the annual Eagle Watch Week, which is Friday through Dec. 31, the BLM and Idaho Department of Fish and Game will have interpretive stations set up at the Mineral Ridge boat launch and trailhead parking lots, as well as high-powered spotting scopes for the public to use.
Staff will be on hand to answer questions from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. each day, except Dec. 31, when the closing time is 2 p.m.
Endsley had one big caution for people traveling to see the eagles: Be safe.
“We get a lot of people who stop in the roadway because they see an eagle,” she said. “They get caught up in the moment.”
Instead, get off the road and park in designated areas. Interstate 90 and Highway 97 are both busy, and normal traffic is not restricted near the eagle viewing areas.
Other safety tips, from the BLM website:
Avoid disturbing the birds. Do not approach them on foot.
Stay as far away from the birds as possible. Binoculars are essential.
Stay in your vehicle if viewing nearby birds.
And here’s Hugo’s biggest tip for eagle watching: Go around 3 p.m.
“I have found that there is often a lot of fishing activity at this time,” she said. “Presumably because they are catching their last fish of the day before it gets too dark to hunt and they head to their night roost.”
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