World’s largest congregation of eagles begins in B.C.

The world’s largest congregation of bald eagles happens on the river in the little community of Harrison Mills

Along the Harrison River in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, thousands of eagles are gathering to gorge on salmon that have reached the spawning ground.

David Hancock, a biologist who has been studying eagles for about 65 years, says the world’s largest congregation of bald eagles happens on the river in the little community of Harrison Mills, about 100 kilometres east of Vancouver.

“Last Saturday morning I did a survey off the river and there were just over 7,000 eagles in the area,” he said in a recent interview. “This is the most we’ve ever had in November.”

About 35,000 eagles gather in the lower Fraser Valley between November and February, and some days about 2,000 to 3,000 raptors move in, Hancock said.

“It’s the biggest single accumulating area because the Harrison River is the single most productive river,” said Hancock. “It’s the only river in Canada called a salmon stronghold river.”

The Harrison River is a tributary of the Fraser River and runs about 18 kilometres in length.

READ MORE: Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival explodes in popularity, draws thousands to Mission, Harrison Mills

READ MORE: Record-breaking bald eagle numbers predicted in Harrison Mills this fall

As rivers in Yukon, Alaska and northern British Columbia ice up food supplies freeze too, which forces the eagles south.

“Our salmon are just beginning to die so the table is set down here,” said Hancock.

But there are other factors that contribute to the number of eagles that descend on the area.

“Sometimes the north doesn’t freeze up and the eagles don’t need to come,” he added. “Some years we don’t get as many salmon so the table isn’t as generously set.”

The eagles remain in the area until February although a few thousand may fly further south into Washington, Oregon and California as winter deepens.

Hancock said this year, the Harrison River does not have enough salmon.

“This was not a good year for spawning,” he said.

When the salmon carcasses are gone, he said the eagles feed on spawned herring and oolachin, a smelt.

In about four years the area might not see as many eagles because overharvesting means there won’t be as many salmon carcasses for them to feed on, he said.

Hancock said in the last two decades researchers have learned about the connection between the huge trees in forests in the area and spawned salmon. The carcasses of spawned salmon give nutrition to the soil, he added, which helps trees grow.

“Without those salmon there are no big forests,” Hancock said. “That’s the lesson we learned in the last 20 years of ecology.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Human behaviour likely to deter birds from Esquimalt Lagoon, survey suggests

More Great Blue Herons spotted, fewer mallard ducks seen

Sidney’s Mary Winspear Centre to host a trio of acts

Aaron Pritchett, Alex Cuba and Valdy will each play four shows

PHOTOS: A morning in a physically-distanced Victoria

Residents commute in a pandemic-changed city

Large Saanich Police presence seen at Mount Douglas Park

Ambulance vehicles have also appeared in the area

North Saanich residents to comment on library plans

Public hearing scheduled for Monday

QUIZ: Are you ready for a summer road trip?

How much do you really know about roads, motor vehicles and car culture? Take this quiz to find out.

Beverly Hills 90210 star’s family selling Vancouver Island Beach Resort

You can own Jason Priestley’s Terrace Beach Resort in Ucluelet for less than $5 million

Genetic detectives begin work to trace spread of COVID-19 in Canada

The kinds of genetic technology being used for this project did not exist when SARS hit Canada in 2003

Sports fishers protest Fraser River Chinook closures

Public Fishery Alliance wants hatchery fish open for harvest

B.C. Ferries increasing passenger capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

Transport Canada 50-per-cent limit being phased out, no current plans to provide masks

Shellfish industry get funds to clean up at Island sites and beyond

Businesses can apply to cover half of costs to clean up so-called ‘ghost gear’

Amber Alert for two Quebec girls cancelled after bodies found

Romy Carpentier, 6, Norah Carpentier, 11, and their father, Martin Carpentier, missing since Wednesday

B.C. man prepares to be first to receive double-hand transplant in Canada

After the surgery, transplant patients face a long recovery

Grocers appear before MPs to explain decision to cut pandemic pay

Executives from three of Canada’s largest grocery chains have defended their decision to end temporary wage increases

Most Read