Every winter, between late November and early February, a group of bald eagles gather at the north end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The eagles come to feast on spawning kokanee salmon, and they have become a regular Holiday attraction for birdwatchers young and old.
Their bright white heads make them easy to spot with the naked eye against the dark trees, and you can be almost certain to watch eagles divebomb for salmon, pulling up with a fish in their talons. Flying acrobatics often ensue as other eagles try to snatch the fresh catch for their own lunch. Bring binoculars to spot the details.
The bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, when it landed as part of the Great Seal of the United States.
The majestic bird – with its sharp, golden beak, impressive wingspan and keen eyesight – figures prominently in many Native American legends, like the one about Thunderbird who creates thunder and lighting by beating its wings. Another legend says the bald eagle energizes his eyes by looking directly into the sun.
An adult eagle weighs between 10 and 12 pounds and it’s the females who are largest. The oldest eagle found in the wild was 29, and it’s believed eagles mate for life – or at least they have a very low divorce rate.
They hunt live pray – smaller mammals, fish, snakes, other birds – but they are opportunistic eaters and don’t turn their majestic beaks up at roadkill or dead livestock. However large and powerful they appear they can only fly off with 3-4 pounds in their talons.
The best birdwatching times are dawn and dusk. The Bureau of Land Management counts the eagles near Higgins Point every year, and the highest count last year was 259 birds in the first week of December.
Lake Coeur d’Alene Cruises are running eagle watching cruises from Dec. 5 to Jan. 3, with some COVID restrictions. Please visit their website for more information.
Eagle watching from the privacy of your own vehicle may not be such a bad idea during these COVID times. Reach Higgins Point by catching East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive and follow it all the way to the end. Wolf Lodge Bay can be reached from I90 via Idaho exit 22 – head south on Highway 97 and look for signs for Wolf Lodge Bay Point. A bit farther south on Highway 97 is the Mineral Ridge Boat Ramp which is another great eagle watching spot. Dress in layers and boots, bring snacks and hot drinks, and don’t disturb or try to feed the birds. Enjoy!