Bald eagles are permanent residents in eastern Idaho but during winter months, they are joined by migrants from the north.
The bald eagle is possibly the most easily recognized wildlife species in the United States. Not only is it our national emblem, a mature bald eagle is unique among the other birds in this country. With their snow-white heads and tails, huge size (up to 14 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan) and propensity to perch on conspicuous branches they are easy to spot and recognize.
Bald eagle numbers actually increase during the winter months in eastern Idaho. In addition to the resident eagles that live year-round along the Henrys Fork and South Fork of the Snake River, huge migrations of eagles leave Alaska and Canada as northern lakes begin to freeze over.
Fall migration is a leisurely affair. They will work their way south, entering Idaho first near Coeur d’ Alene to take advantage of spawned out kokanee salmon in Lake Pend Oreille and Coeur d’ Alene Lake. From there, some head to Oregon and California and others set wing for southern Idaho and Utah.
Bald eagles, once plentiful, dwindled to alarmingly low numbers by 1940 when Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protective Act, largely because they were killed for being a perceived threat to livestock and the salmon industry. The introduction of the insecticide, DDT, though, nearly drove them to extinction. By 1963, only 417 nesting pairs were found in the lower 48 states. They were listed as “endangered” by the Endangered Species Act in 1967.
Recovery efforts, including the ban of DDT in 1972, produced amazing results and the bald eagle became the poster child for the success of the Endangered Species Act. By 1995, its status changed to “threatened” and just 12 years later, with over 10,000 breeding pairs, they were removed from ESA protection altogether.
We may take our bald eagles for granted as most of Idaho has permanent resident eagles as well as the migrants. That isn’t the case across much of the Lower 48. In most of the country, bald eagles are a winter treat, disappearing back into the north country by breeding time.
Solitary bald eagles can be found by driving along the South Fork or the Henrys Fork and scanning the bare cottonwoods along the rivers. However, if you want to have the chance to see lots of eagles, Camas National Wildlife Refuge north of Hamer is the place to be. Each winter evening, from 20 to over 100 bald eagles gather in the cottonwood trees north of the headquarters building where they roost for the night. By early morning, they are off for the day, possibly traveling to the Henrys Fork to fish and hunt waterfowl, their favorite foods.
If you want to make an outing of your eagle adventure, join the Friends of Camas this Saturday, February 24, for their annual Come to Roost activity. You can join other eagle enthusiasts in watching the eagles fly in for the evening. This is an open year and the birds are more scattered across the landscape, but there may still be from 20-40 birds coming in. As a bonus, the Friends group will be supplying free hot chocolate. The affair begins at 4 p.m. and lasts until dark.
Regardless of where we see bald eagles, they should always remind us of what we nearly lost and more importantly, that we chose to save them.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho