Haines Alaska Valley of the Eagles
Haines, Alaska, is known as The Valley of the Eagles. This is due to the large annual influx of bald eagles that descend on this location every November. Located at the northern end of North America’s longest and deepest glacial fjord, the Lynn Canal. Haines sits on a peninsular between the Chilkoot and Chilkat Rivers. The Chilkat (Tlingit) Indians called the area Dei Shu, which means End of the Trail.
Haines, Alaska is a small town of 53.6 sq. km and has a population of 1863. The primary industry is halibut and salmon fishing. It is also known for timber, tourism, the arts, and its famous annual Bald Eagle Festival.
Annual Bald Eagle Festival
In Haines, Alaska, the main tourist attraction is the 200,000-hectare Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve (est.1982). The Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve is home to these amazing birds of prey. Every year in November, the Haines American Bald Eagle Foundation hosts the Bald Eagle Festiva. This coincides with the world’s largest gathering of eagles. Approximately 2000 – 4000 eagles fly into Haines, Alaska for a very brief period of around just three weeks. The eagles descend into this area for the late salmon, run just before the freezing over the Chilkat River. As a result, there is an abundance of salmon, the primary diet for bald eagles. In addition, the festival includes guided naturalist trips, educational wildlife exhibits and presentations. One of the other wonderful experiences to join into at this time is to observe rehabilitated eagles being released back into the wild.
This festival attracts hundreds of photographers and tourists worldwide who descend as quickly and efficiently as the eagles to this area, wanting to observe and photograph these amazing birds of prey.
Established by the State of Alaska, the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was created to protect the world’s largest concentration of bald eagles, their habitat and to sustain and the natural salmon run.
The river “flats” of the Chilkat River, along the Haines Highway, Alaska, between Miles 18 and 21, are the main viewing area for Bald Eagle Festival watchers and are considered critical habitat in the Preserve.
The Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) have been the national emblem of the United States of America since 1782. The eagles are distinctive, with their white heads, brown bodies and yellow hooked beaks. In the 1950s, their numbers decreased dramatically due to the use of the chemical DDT. Conservation endeavours by the USA government successfully banned the use of DDT, and the population of eagles increased.
Bald Eagles are not actually bald but have snowy-white feathers on their head. They got their name from an old English word, “blade,” meaning white.
Bald Eagle Facts
- Weight: 3 – 7 kg
- Wingspan: 2.4 metres
- Flying speeds: 160km/h
- Lifespan in the wild: 28 years
- Female eagles are bigger than males
- Their bodies are up to 1 metre long.
Eagles are one of the largest raptors in the world. Their habitats are located near water sources, as their main diet is fish, ducks, snakes and turtles. They also will eat rabbits, muskrats and feast on dead animals.
Possessed with acute eyesight and powerful talons, they attack by swooping down on their prey at an angle and using their hooked beak to penetrate their prey.
bald eagle nests
Nests are called ‘aeries’ or ‘eyries’. Bald eagles build their nests into the top of tall trees to keep them safe, as seen in the image below taken in Haines, Alaska. The aeries are large, up to 1.5 metres in diameter and 0.50 metres deep and can weigh up to 900 kg. Many eagles will return each year to their aeries and add more twigs, sticks and grasses.
Eagles can soar over 3000 metres elevation. They can see prey up to 1.6 km away. Once spotted the eagles then drop down at speeds of 161 km/h to snare the prey. Bald eagles are experts in gliding just above the water to snag a fish with their feet before flying off to devour it.
Eagles will lay 1-3 eggs a year, not all of which will hatch or survive. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, which takes around 30 – 35 days to hatch. Hatchlings or eaglets are born with light grey fluffy feathers, changing to brown around three weeks old. By 4 – 5 years, they will have their distinctive white head and brown body.
Due to extensive conservation programs and the discontinuation of the use of DDT, the Bald Eagle’s population increased, and they are no longer on the IUCN endangered list of species. However, while bald eagles have very few predators, apart from humans, they are still at risk due to habitat loss caused by deforestation and illegal hunting.
In summary, Haines, Alaska, is well worth visiting during the annual Bald Eagle Festival. It not only has prime viewing of thousands of Bald Eagles coming into both the Chilkat and Chilkoot rivers but also has stunning landscapes. However, the weather is freezing, and temperatures hover around -20c. It is very easy to witness and photograph both sunrise and sunset without an early morning or a late night. This is due to sunrise being around 9 am and sunset at around 2 pm.
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