VANCOUVER – Tens of thousands of bald eagles that usually gorge on the late season chum salmon in rivers from Alaska to Vancouver have been forced from their usual feeding grounds by poor salmon runs, according to wildlife biologist David Hancock.
While the Brackendale eagle count registered only 627 birds in 2010 — its forth consecutive year under 1,000 after peaking at nearly 4,000 in 1994 — Chehalis [Harrison] attracted a record 7,400 eagles, more than double the normal count due to a moderately successful coho run.
The disappointing numbers at Brackendale are only a microcosm of what is going on right up and down the coast, said Hancock. As many as 50,000 eagles are searching for food and may range as far as the Mississippi River to find it.
Based on a count he conducted Monday (today), Hancock reckons that as many as 800 eagles are feeding at Boundary Bay and the Vancouver Landfill in Delta.
“I have about 100 eagles in front of me right now at Boundary Bay,” Hancock said. “They are all desperately looking for something as an alternative [to chum].”
Observers at Delta’s Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) confirm that local eagle numbers are up.
“We have been seeing a lot more eagles show up in the Delta area in the last few weeks,” said OWL bird care supervisor Rob Hope.
“Any available fish carcasses are probably rotted or under ice at the moment so the eagles come here for the rats, rabbits and ducks,” Hope said.
Hope opines that the eagle count at Brackendale won’t recover for several more years while the Cheakamus River recovers from a 2005 caustic soda spill that wiped out the fish in the river.
“Once one part of the food chain is interfered with it’s just a fact that everybody else follows suit,” he said.
Larger signs of trouble emerged about three months ago.
The eagle count on the Chilkat River in northwestern B.C. and southeastern Alaska recorded its lowest count ever, said Hancock.
“Normally we have 3,000 to 4,000 thousand eagles but very few fish appeared there and they were down to only a few hundred eagles,” he said. The same story has repeated in every salmon-bearing river in B.C. over the past couple of months.
“I thought to myself we are going to have a ton of eagles here, so I went out on the Chehalis early in October when normally we wouldn’t have any eagles and sure enough we had 500 and that number built up to 7,400 by two weeks before Christmas,” said Hancock. “Those are the biggest numbers we’ve ever seen.”
“I went again last Saturday and there were only 348,” he said. “The fish had been eaten out.”
“Now the question is where do 25- to 50,000 eagles go that would normally feed here through the fall and distribute themselves in our rivers,” Hancock said. “Where the hell are they?”
Hancock predicts that thousands of eagles will begin showing in the inter-mountain waterways of the American Midwest, particularly the Mississippi River.
When chum runs dipped dramatically in 2006, Hancock received reports that eagles were arriving by the hundreds to Mississippi River waterways and tributaries.
“One woman in Kansas who had been watching our eagle cams said that about three weeks after the eagles disappeared from here about 400 showed up at her impoundment [reservoir] when normally she would see on maybe two eagles in the winter,” he said.
By Randy Shore 3 Jan 2011
Source: The Vancouver Sun