By Co-Owner and Guide, Michael Wald
Each year in November, Bald Eagles from around Alaska congregate around the ice free Chilkat River between Haines and Klukwan, Alaska. Though we only saw 100 eagles this weekend; at one time over 3,000 eagles were counted here as they fed on salmon. As we watched eagles with 7 foot wing spans, fight over fish carcasses, preen in the towering cottonwoods and scavenge along the beach, I realized how wonderfully adaptable these huge birds of prey are.
Though not know to breed on the North-slope and much less common in the arctic than Golden Eagles, we do see Bald Eagles as far north as the Beaufort Sea; especially near rivers like the Kongakut or Canning, which have healthy runs of Char.
In areas where geese are common we occasionally see bald eagles hunting them on the wing. One May on the Yukon River I awoke early to the distress call of a Canada Goose and watched as the goose dove, turned and flapped for all it was worth with an eagle matching its every move, only inches from its tail. They disappeared before the contest concluded, but I found several beheaded goose carcasses that same spring with eagle tracks all around.
Guide and former owner of Arctic Wild, David van den Berg saw a Bald Eagle grab a goose by the tail and steer it at break-neck speed (literally) into a sandbar in the Western Brooks Range one summer. The eagle then “massaged” the goose with it’s talons before plucking it and feeding.
As my family and I watched eagles tear apart spawning salmon along the Chilkat on Saturday I was momentarily struck by the carnage and brutality of the scene, but knowing what powerful and energetic hunters they can be in harsher climes, I came to speculate that the eagles are on a relaxing vacation here in Southeast Alaska. I hope they have a relaxing winter. I’m looking forward to seeing them back in action on the tundra next spring.