Regal Eagles
By Gary Hayes with Veronica Russell
Published: 09/04/2011  Updated: 08/08/2019

Though once threatened with extinction, Bald Eagles now thrive in the abundance of the Pacific Northwest

In an instant, a peaceful winter scene on the beach is turned into a squawking commotion of gulls. Dozens of them, maybe hundreds, take to the air in a clamor from their perches on intertidal seastacks. What's all the fuss? It's two eagles on the prowl for their next meal. The Bald Eagle is one of the largest of the birds of prey, with wingspans that can exceed seven feet.

A Bald Eagle's eyesight is so good it can spot a fish from more than a mile away, and they are fast, able to swoop down at 100 miles an hour to snatch a fish from just below the water's surface. Threatened with extinction in the 1940s, our national symbol's populations dropped by well over 90 percent in the lower 48 states to fewer than 450 nesting pairs by the 1960s. Removed from the endangered species list in June of 2007, the recovery of the eagle has been noticeable throughout the Northwest, and coastal populations are clearly on the rise. As many as 200 Bald Eagles now winter along the lower Columbia River estuary. "The greatest increase in populations," says Jeremy Buck from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "has occurred in the lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers."

In general, these raptors require an environment of quiet isolation, tall mature trees and healthy water ecosystems. According to Buck, the primary threats to their continued recovery are related to people and development. "These [threats] include human disturbance, especially at the nest sites where they are most sensitive," says Buck, "as well as habitat loss, (logging too close to nest sites and loss of old-growth nest trees, especially around the lower Columbia River), and loss of foraging habitats, as wetlands get lost to development."

While there's no denying that the near extinction of this majestic bird was due to humans, Jeremy Buck reminds us to take a moment to watch them and appreciate that these majestic symbols of our nation are still with us today. "The dramatic rebound of their populations," he says, "is due to the conservation efforts of a nation."

Bald Eagles might be seen anywhere along the coast, but the Twilight Creek Eagle Sanctuary just east of Astoria is probably the most dependable location. Viewing platforms at Twilight Creek overlook a protected eagle habitat in the marshes of Cathlamet Bay where it's not uncommon to see dozens of eagles in a single day. Other good bird watching locations include Leadbetter State Park on the Long Beach Peninsula, Clatsop Spit in Fort Stevens State Park, Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach, Tillamook Bay, Siletz River estuary and upper Yaquina Bay in Newport.
Regal Eagles