Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bald Headed Eagles ~ South Thompson River ~ Chase, BC

We had recently driven the highway near Chase, BC, about 30 minutes east of Kamloops and were so surprised at the number of bald headed eagles that we could see in the trees near the South Thompson River.  We made the plan to come back out soon to get some pictures.

South Thompson River at Chase, BC
Eagles are not rare in this area but we hadn’t seen them in these numbers before so this was quite amazing.  We weren’t seeing their large stick nests, which are usually very visible high in barren trees so we don’t know where they’d been nesting.
Three bald headed eagles watch for fish in the river below
Eagles mate for life and can live up to 30 years old. Both male and female look after the 2-3 eggs for the 35 days of incubation and both hunt for food for the young until they’re ready to fly at 10 -13 weeks of age. Fish is the biggest part of their diet so they build their nests near water, either rivers or the ocean. Eaglets are able to fly for thousands of kilometers and late summer and fall is when they’re learning to hunt for themselves.

Bald headed eagle family
Bald headed eagles are not bald, so the name is misleading but derives from a Middle English word “balled” that means “shining white”.  The young are a mix of brown and white feathers, and we’re seeing that in the majority of eagles on this visit. Even the immature are large and when full grown will have a wing span from 72” TO 90”.
Young bald headed eagles are not yet bald
They reach maturity by the time they are 5 or 6 years old and it is then that both the male and the female have their ‘shining white’ head.  Eagles from the north tend to be a bit larger than those from more southern areas but no matter where they’re from, the females are a bit larger than the males at 35 to 37” tall.  Eagles weigh 10-14 lbs. and can lift up to 4 lbs. 

Four bald headed eagles watch the Trumpeter Swans and Canada Geese fly by
The bald headed eagle has 7000 feathers and those are often part of religious and spiritual customs for First Nations.  They consider it a powerful symbol of courage as well as other significant meanings and use them in traditional ceremonies, including them as part of the decorations on their costumes.  The eagle feather is treated with great honor and is the highest honor that can be given to a person.

The gnarled trees that eagles habitate
We’ve never seen a large number of eagles in flight but that would be called a “kettle of eagles”. Perhaps we haven’t seen this because they’re able to fly at an altitude of 10,000 ft., and during level flight can reach 30-35 mph. We’d have difficulty seeing that far away but with their keen eyesight, they’d be seeing us!

Young bald headed eagles learn to fish in the fall sun
Canada does not recognize the bald headed eagle with any offical label but they are considered a magnificent bird of prey. It is a different story in the US since they became the US National Emblem in 1782. They neared extinction in the U.S. in the 1970’s but that was withdrawn in June 2007 as their numbers having increased enough to say they’re no longer endangered. They are protected by law on both sides of the border.
Trumpeter Swans on the South Thompson River
We drove by the same place a week after our visit for photos and there was only one bald headed eagle to be found. I believe we were ‘honored’ to have seen so many of them as they enjoyed the view from their perches high in the trees in our neighborhood.  Perhaps they were migrating and found this to be a great stopover location, and that means we could look forward to their visit again next year.   In the meantime we can enjoy watching the trumpeter swans as they winter on the South Thompson River.