We are typically fascinated with that which is the fastest, the strongest, the largest. The bald eagle may not be at the top of any of those categories, but it’s near the top of all of them. With its distinctive pure white head and tail, it’s also instantly recognizable. Even people who can’t tell a heron from a hawk can immediately identify a bald eagle.
Despite the fact that we know a bald eagle when we see one, most of us don’t really know the bird. An astonishing number of people believe an eaglet is suddenly able to fly when its mother physically kicks it out of the nest. In reality, the process is more like how human children learn to ride a bike. There’s initial hesitation and a lot of trial and error leading up to a short, sometimes scary, first outing. And sometimes siblings have to spring into action to help.
The first flight is really just the beginning of a remarkable story that involves migrating up rivers in pursuit of spawning salmon, learning to read the body language of other eagles to recognize the best opportunities to steal food, and perfecting hunting skills by practicing on small fish that get trapped in oyster beds at low tides.
Unlike most bald eagle populations, which may migrate thousands of miles over the course of a year, the eagles of the Pacific Northwest mostly stay put. This gives us a tremendous opportunity to really get to know them. Based on more than a decade of photography from throughout their Northwestern range, three years of detailed observation at one nest site, and extensive analysis of published research, Year of the Eagle attempts to do just that.