The Bald Eagle

bald eagle

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 trip.

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.

Some Bald Eagle Facts

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).

bald eagle

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 vicinity.

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.

   

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