Eagles of North Idaho - Awe inspiring, and a reminder of our
Before I start,
let me give you the inspiration for this article. As I drove in to
work the two odd miles over the Long Bridge that crosses gigantic
Lake Pend Oreille, I was graced by not one, but two eagles in
flight. A juvenile, not yet crested with the white crown so
distinctive to the breed, flew on the lake side of the bridge. On
the river side a young bald eagle, this one with the familiar
white headed plumes, soared on hard blowing winds with a wing-span
of almost five feet. This is a common occurrence, and virtually
every day passers-by spy eagles perched or flying. There is no
doubt many start or continue their days inspired and awe struck.
In twenty years
of living in south Louisiana and central Florida, I thought I had
seen every kind of bird. It is an awesome thing to see the great
flocks migrating back to the marshes and warmer lands. However,
rarely has my spirit been lifted more than seeing the eagles of
North Idaho. Eagles are inspiring; Eagles are majestic; hardly a
day passes that one cannot see an eagle perched in its nest or
soaring the skies around the gargantuan lakes of North Idaho.
Living along the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, with daily
crossings across the miles-spanning Long Bridge, eagles are
amazingly apparent. A mating pair live in the tall pines right in
our view of the lake, and a young eagle has made its home, or at
least perches a lot, right off the Long Bridge. In fact, my home
overlooks the WaterLife Discovery Center: a proposed facility for
a habitat education and interpretive area on the shores of the
Pend Oreille River near Sandpoint, Idaho. It will be a self guided
educational center that combines a fish hatchery, nature trails,
overlook bridges, wildlife watching platforms, interpretive signs,
and underwater viewing opportunities along a stream and a pond.
Unfortunately, funding ran dry years ago, and there it sits, 1940s
building waiting to be moved, space unused. Still, the place is
special, and I would like to think I am equally special seeing my
daily dose of eagles and wildlife, but truth is, thousands see
these eagles every day driving along busy Highway 95.
There are so many
kinds of birds here that are part of daily life. The state bird is
the elusive Mountain Bluebird, but as secretive as the Bluebird
is, turkey, duck, and goose are abundant, and grouse, quail, and
pheasant fly up out of the brush everywhere one goes. In Florida
humingbirds are common, but the wonder of having one fly around
your head is an experience this writer only had in North Idaho,
and not once, but many times. Raptors abound, and daily sitings of
osprey, hawks, and falcons are common. The most amazing thing is
how many are seen even in the cities. North Idaho is truly a
mountain hinterland, and though there are people, many areas are
70% or better state and federal forests. With so much rural land
and heavy forestation, birds have found a haven. Sure, there are
many, many kinds of birds (409 accepted species, see this
Idaho Bird Checklist and for more info visit
eagles are the most cool of all.
the USGS stated in 2008 that eagles in North America entered their
30th year in recovery. For more info about eagles in
Idaho, download this pdf from Idaho Fish and Game about
Eagles. In Idaho, the eagle population has increased five-fold
since the 1970s. While the last two years has seen fewer migrating
eagles around Lake Coeur d'Alene, the numbers are still
impressive. In 2005, 46 breeding pairs were estimated around Lake
Pend Oreille, and hundreds more make their nests in and around the
lakes of North Idaho.
Here are some
facts about eagles:
Bald Eagles are
the national symbol of the United States.
aren't really bald. Their head is actually covered with white
feathers. The white feathers on their head comes when they are
5 or 6 years old. Female eagles are often a third larger than
males. Males weigh roughly 10 lbs. while females are around 14
lbs. Being smaller, males are a bit quicker and more agile,
offering male eagles the advantage in catching prey. Larger
females are better able to incubate the eggs and brood the young
chicks, using her body to shelter her offspring from cold,
soaking rains, or hot sun. The male's wingspan is a little more
than 6 feet from wing tip to wing tip, the female's is between
6.5 and 7 feet. Bald Eagles wing span can reach 8 feet, allowing
them the ability to float and soar on the winds for hours.
near large bodies of water, and prefer the sea or ocean. They
often live in trees 75 feet or higher. Bald Eagles add to their
nest over and over. Sometimes it can take a pair of eagles as
long as six weeks to build their nest for the first time. The
eyrie, or aerie, is the large nest made of sticks and lined with
twigs and green grass. The heaviest nest ever found is 1 ton.
The word aerie can refer to any nest that is built on a high
place, usually a cliff, but it is commonly used to denote an
eagle's nest, as in an eagle's aerie. The word aerie itself
comes from the Latin for area - open space or threshing floor.
Eagles mate for
life. The female may lay from one to three eggs and raises one
brood (group) a year. If these eggs are destroyed the female
may lay more eggs. It takes four weeks for an eagle egg to
hatch. Eaglets grow slowly and need a large amount of food. A
bald eagle egg is slightly smaller than a domestic goose egg.
The chick will measure 4 to 5 inches at hatching and weigh only
a matter of ounces.
normally eat fish. Sometimes they will eat snakes and smaller
birds. They have long sharp beaks and curved talons to help hold
prey. They can fly with 8 pounds of food. Bald Eagles help
man by catching rodents and rabbits that destroy grain fields.
The male does most of the hunting and scavenging during the
early weeks of the chick's life. The female does the majority of
the feeding and brooding.
The male will
often eat the head of the fish he catches and then bring the
remainder to the nest. The male will brood and feed the chick
when the female is off the nest. She will leave to stretch,
defecate, bathe, preen and hunt on her own.
great eyesight that helps them see for one to one and a half
miles away. (Thus the term eagles eye) They can dive
at 100 miles per hour. Their eyesight and diving ability help
them catch food.
migrate in the sense that robins and bluebirds do. Eagles only
travel as far as they have to in order to find food. This is
particularly true of adult eagles with established territories.
Adults will stay on their territory (roughly 1 - 6 square miles)
year round as long as there is open water nearby where they can
hunt. Should a severe winter limit the food supply, eagles will
move as far south as necessary to find open water and suitable
Check out this YouTube Video of the Eagles
Each winter from
November through February a migrating population of up to 150 bald
eagles visit the Wolf Lodge Bay area of Coeur d'Alene Lake to feed
on spawning kokanee salmon. An
interpretive viewing program is offered annually from
Christmas through New Years during peak migration. Prime viewing
is during Eagle Watch Week December 26th - January 1st. At this
time there are exhibits with telescopes at the Mineral Ridge Boat
Launch and the Mineral Ridge Trailhead. Biologists and volunteers
are available every day during the week to answer questions,
except during the very worst weather conditions. Wolf Lodge Bay is
about 11 miles east of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Take US-90 east from
Coeur d'Alene for eight miles to Wolf Lodge Bay (exit 22), then
south on Highway 97 for three miles.
The Bureau of
Land Management counted 127 eagles on December 8, 2008 on Lake
In our neck of
the woods we are graced by the 148 square mile Lake Pend Oreille,
and in years past there were so many eagles, one of the islands
was named Eagle Island. This island lies on the route of the
International Selkirk Loop and the Pend Oreille Scenic Byway. Lake
Pend Oreille, the result of ancient Ice Age floods offers viewing
of every kind of bird.
There are many
bird watching areas, and you can find most on the Idaho Fish and
Game Site like this one detailing
Oden Bay. The Denton Slough Waterfowl Area offers another
great viewing spot for birders. Migrating waterfowl love to visit
the area, and Tundra Swans are commonly sighted each fall.
Similarly, Western Grebes bring their nesting colony to the area
in the spring. Other waterfowl and songbirds can be seen in the
The Pack River
Wildlife Area is prime for viewing waterfowl and migrating birds
and can be viewed from your car during winter months. Eagles
wintering in the wildlife area are frequently seen from
automobiles driving the byway.
For Blue Herons,
osprey, waterfowl, and songbirds, the Johnson Creek Recreation
Area is another excellent spot. The Idaho Department of Fish and
Game maintains a boat launch and docks which supply easy access to
the water, allowing you to observe these birds up close. If you
want to watch the skies from a more comfortable location, plan an
adventure in the Trestle Creek Recreation Area. A day use area
provides restrooms and picnic tables. If you stop here during
winter months, again, you'll probably see eagles. If you visit
during the spring, summer, or fall you may be able to spot ospreys
fishing the waters.
opportunity for first-class birding along the byway lies in the
Idaho Panhandle National Forests which include the St. Joe, Coeur
d'Alene, and Kanisku Forests. You will be able to do lots of bird
watching here. Bald Eagles, the Common Loon, Harlequin Duck,
Peregrine Falcon, Flammulated Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, and
make their home in the forests. Find what you are looking for on
the Pend Oreille Scenic byway. Relax as you drive, enjoy the
scenery and look to the skies. You'll find that the byway suits
all of your needs and satisfies your bird watching fancy. Plan a
trip to spend the day or longer along the byway and you will catch
a glimpse of waterfowl, songbirds, eagles and more.
To see eagles
soar and do their acrobatic mating dance, seemingly out of control
falling towards earth in freefall is frightening and breathtaking.
To watch an eagle sit motionless in the sky, floating on unseen
currents of air, defies logic. Eagles are one of my favorite parts
of life in North Idaho. We just finished Sandpoint's Winter
Carnival, with great fun and events and thousands of people out
and about enjoying the festivities. Last week, skiing Schweitzer
Mountain with its awesome views of Lake Pend Oreille, I felt
blessed. We have so much to offer in North Idaho, with majestic
mountains, scenery, and vast lake views. Few places as small as
Sandpoint have so much going on. Still, for me, the eagles make me
proud. These fantastic raptors remind me that I am an American.
When I see one, I forget about the economy. I forget about my
worries. I am filled with wonder, and only think about how cool
this moment is, seeing the symbol of my country, proud, strong,
Remember, you can
learn all about Sandpoint at
Learn more about
Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort at
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