Bald Eagle Roosting Trees

eagle roost tree

Eighteen bald eagles in the Eagle Tree between Hagerman and Wendell, Idaho. As many as 80 eagles may use this tree (and several others) during the winter.

On a recent birding/snow escape trip to Hagerman, “the banana belt of Idaho,” we determined to spend one blustery sunset watching bald eagles fly into their roosting tree. The only problem was, we couldn’t remember how to get to this location. As navigator, Cathy did a quick check on Google Maps and sure enough, when she typed in Eagle Tree, directions immediately popped up.

We drove from Hagerman toward Wendell up the Hagerman Grade and soon found ourselves at the tree. It was five p.m., about an hour and ten minutes before sunset, but there were already several dozen bald eagles in the trees. Yes, while it is called the eagle tree, there are several trees that the eagles use and there was a fair bit of interchange between them as we watched.

We observed for an hour and by the time we left, there were over 50 eagles, adults and juveniles, in the trees. We could see more coming in as well.

Bald eagle winter roosting is an interesting behavior. Except for their mates, bald eagles are usually solitary. However, during the winter, roosting trees such as this one are common and may hold from a few to up to 500 birds. The Eagle Tree has been reported to shelter up to 80 birds. The theory is that the birds gather for communal warmth. Frankly, I have never seen bald eagles huddled closely enough to share body heat, but I am told it happens. One interesting feature about roost trees, is that the eagles always seem to face east, presumably to take advantage of the early morning sun.

Typically, roosting trees are large mature trees within about eight miles of feeding areas. In winter, feeding areas can include calving and lambing operations where they feed on afterbirth and stillborn animals. I recently read about ranchers who welcome bald eagles as part of the clean-up crew because they also help to discourage other birds like starlings and magpies.

Whatever reason the eagles have to gather at roosting places in the winter, it must be important because this is a behavior throughout their range. The Center for Conservation Biology maintains a national eagle roost registry and as of 2016 (the most recent data I could find), there were 1,487 registered roosts in the US and 51 in Canada. Massachusetts is the runaway winner with 622 registered roosts and Washington is a distant second with 291.

I found it interesting that Idaho did not have any registered roosts in the database. Besides the Eagle Tree near Hagerman, Camas National Wildlife Refuge also hosts bald eagles in the large cottonwoods near headquarters and I am sure that there are others, all of which are apparently unregistered.

And that makes this a timely topic. Today, February 25th, beginning at five p.m., Friends of Camas NWR will host their annual Come to Roost party. Participants will gather in a parking area east of headquarters to watch the birds fly in from their day of hunting and scavenging. They will land in the trees until about dark. Guests will be able to observe the birds through provided spotting scopes while enjoying complimentary hot chocolate and cookies. You don’t need an invite to go, just show up and join in the fun.

One final thing about roosting trees. The eagles that use these trees do so to increase their ability to survive the winter. Disturbance of any kind, but especially by people approaching too closely, can be detrimental and may even force the eagles to relocate. We have to assume that they are selecting the best habitat available so let’s not force them into suboptimal areas through our poor behavior.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

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. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

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.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"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.

Readers Write:

"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:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

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