Seattle Waldorf School Garden Educator, Dr. Charlotte Rasmussen, shares her experience viewing bald eagles along the Nooksack River in northern Washington.

Eagle in treeMajestic and deadly, birds of prey like the bald eagle are exciting to spot and watch along the waterways of the Pacific Northwest. Seeing bald eagles has become more common as the population recovers from the devastating effects of the pesticide DDT, illegal shooting, and habitat degradation that occurred during the middle of the last century. Several times during the past two years, sixth grade students have been able to spot one while on their gardening field trips to the north shore of Magnuson park where they work with Green Seattle forest stewards to care for and restore native meadows and forests.

A symbol of strength and power in ancient times, Roman legions used to carry banners with depictions of eagles into battle. In 1782, this symbolism resonated with the newly formed U.S. Congress when they approved the eagle as the design for the national seal. Soon after, an olive branch and arrows, representing peace and war were added to the eagle’s talons. Before the bald eagle became the emblem of the United States, the eagle was featured in many creation stories of the Native American tribes. In these stories the eagle’s strength, boldness, and courage to withstand any obstacles are revered.

Eagle hunting salmonStarting in late October, eagles from Alaska, British Columbia, the Yukon, and Northwest Territories spend the winter months along the Skagit and Nooksack rivers where the returning chum salmon provide a food source in the cold winter months. In December and early January, we are able to view hundreds of eagles from different spots located along either river. On December 23, my partner and I went to the Welcome Bridge River Access Park along the north fork of the Nooksack River in Whatcom county and had the good fortune to see over 100 bald eagles. Because it was later in the morning, many of the eagles had finished feeding for the day and were nestled in the trees surrounding the river. However, several eagles were still fighting over the remains of a chum salmon carcass that had washed up on the banks of the river. We stayed to watch juveniles fly overhead and issue high-pitched calls to each other. We captured some of the action in pictures. Eagles move around looking for chum salmon washed up on the banks, so several days later when we revisited the same spot, we saw fewer eagles, counting about 30 flying or roosting in trees. Whether you see our national bird flying overhead, roosting in a tree, or feeding on salmon, it is truly a wonderful and amazing site.

Eagle eating salmonIf you want to see the eagles in large numbers on the Skagit or Nooksack River, it is best to go soon. The bald eagles will start dispersing to their breeding territories by the end of January. It is best to go eagle viewing early in the day as eagles tend to be more active from dawn until mid-morning and be sure to take your mask, binoculars, and hot cocoa.

–Dr. Charlotte Rasmussen

Photo credit: Jim Holloway

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