You might have observed from the visual imagery of this website the bald eagle is a prominent player in the wildlife landscape of Alaska.
This magnificent bird symbolizes much
of what Alaska is about: wild, vast, soaring. They have become a
favorite of mine during my decades of travelling the
Northwest, and an Alaska inside passage cruise offers no shortage of
opportunities to observe the eagle in its natural habitat.
This was certainly true in our case.
Though we were not able to make the acclaimed Chilkat Bald Eagle
Preserve excursion we saw bald eagles at a number of ports on our
The photo below caught the aerial
display of a majestic bird soaring over the ice of Glacier Bay at the end of a
brilliant sunny afternoon, while the captain of our cruiseship did a
masterful job of u-turning the vessel in front of the glacier so both
sides could have a front-row view.
The bald eagle is on the United States Seal, and is both the national animal and the national bird of the nation.
They are monogamous and mate for life.
They're masters at using
thermal convection currents for their powerful flight. They can reach
speeds of 43 mph (69 km/h) when flapping or gliding and 99 mph (159 km/h) when diving.
Wingspans can be up to 7.5 feet (228 cm) and females’ weight up to 14 pounds (25% larger than males).
Because of their size a bald eagle nest can be massive. The largest recorded was found in 1963 in Florida at almost 10 feet (305 cm) wide and nearly 20 feet (610 cm) deep.
They have some interesting feeding
habits. Depending on the eagle’s locality their primary food is
fish (certainly true in most areas of the Inside Passage). Their diet
will also include mammals, birds and perhaps their favorite, carrion.
This comment comes from my own personal
experience in observing and photographing them in the interior of the
Northwest, and may not be as true on the coastal waters. However, they are always smart economists, opportunistic, and because of these, sometimes downright lazy.
Where the situation lends itself they
would much prefer others do the hunting than do it themselves. This
is noticeably true on waters shared with Ospreys who are, by
contrast, hardworking and tireless hunters. In this scenario I’ve
more than once observed Bald Eagles stealing an Osprey’s fish, and
if there’s carrion around they are quite happy with that too.
Not to diminish the majesty of this
master-of-the-sky one bit. When warranted they are powerful, fearless
hunters, who have a reputation for occasionally attacking prey much
larger than themselves. On the Seattle coastline I once witnessed a raptor perched atop a power pole with his eye on a large seal
pup frolicking in the bay. After about ten minutes, to my complete
surprise, the eagle dived into the water after the pup (which
outweighed the bird by a large margin).
The attempt was unsuccessful and the
eagle flew off in search of something smaller, but the incident
illustrated a bald eagle’s fearless hunting disposition. For this
reason when backwoods camping I’ll often remind parents with small
children to keep their toddlers close-by when eagles are in the
So for wildlife enthusiasts taking an Alaska inside passage cruise, keep your eyes open and cameras ready for the bald eagle. And we highly recommend the numerous
excursions and tours available into the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.