The 2014 eagle count in Brackendale, British Columbia, logged 1,617 eagles, almost double that of the 2013 count. The count is done each year in the month of January to coincide with the Annual Winter Eagle Festival held each January.
The Brackendale area is the largest gathering for wintering bald eagles in all of North America. The annual return of spawning salmon heralds the eagles return to the Squamish Valley area where the salmon, many of them lying on the banks of the river, make the availability of food easily accessible to them. Besides the Squamish River providing the eagles with ample food, security is also assured. The numerous trees available for them to perch on makes this area very advantageous for them as well.
The bald eagles of North America generally gather near bodies of water that have an abundant food supply and sufficient, mature trees for nesting. The trees must be large enough to accommodate nests which are usually built between 52 and 125 feet above the ground affording them good visibility and in relative proximity to their prey. Their nests are the largest of any other bird. They can be up to thirteen feet deep, eight feet wide and weigh as much as one metric ton. They begin laying their eggs in late February, earlier than other birds.
From mid-December to mid-January is the most ideal time to view these majestic birds of prey but can also be viewed while they are nesting and tending their young. They play a crucial part in the natural health of our environment. Not only eagles can be seen on a visit to Brackendale, but other wild life as well. Some of these are the black bear, gray wolf, bobcat, mink and the northern flying squirrel.
Eagles are considered to be mature at five years old when the feathers on their heads become white. They will begin to breed at this time often returning to the area where they were born. Eagles generally mate for life. Bald eagles have a wing span of between 5.9 and 7.5 feet when fully mature and weigh between 6.6 and 13.9 pounds. The females are 25% larger than the males. Eagles can fly at between 35 – 40 miles per hour and about 30 miles her hour when carrying fish. Their dive speed is between 75 and 100 miles per hour.
Besides their main diet of fish, eagles do eat some birds, even ones as large as ducks and geese and some mammals. Many of the smaller animals such as rabbits, even cats, small dogs and lizards can be consumed by the bald eagle.
There is an interpretive display explaining the life cycle of the eagles and salmon available at the viewing center in Brackendale. The volunteers who do the count also take note of the overall general health of these birds. Besides viewing the birds from the main viewing area, there are walking tours and boat tours available.
The Brackendale Art Gallery is a must to visit while there. They offer exhibits, information on the lives of the eagles and will answer any questions you have relating to them, the salmon and about the area in general. There is also a small licensed cafe so it’s an ideal spot to enjoy lunch or just to warm up with a drink.
Brackendale is located 70 km north of Vancouver, British Columbia in the Squamish Valley. It is easily accessed by taking Government Road which runs parallel to the highway and terminates in Brackendale. The main viewing area is located on the municipal dyke across from the Easter Seal Camp on Government Road.
Bringing binoculars is definitely a must when planning a trip to view the eagles. It is a wonderful experience to view the flight of these majestic birds as they soar gracefully through the sky forever on the lookout for their next tasty meal. They can spot a fish in the water from several hundred feet above and they can identify a rabbit moving about a mile away.
Visiting Brackendale, the Eagle Capital of the World is well worth the trip.