Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, BC (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Bald eagle (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Bald eagle (Photo by Bill Hubick)

Bald eagle

The bald eagle is an icon of strength and courage, and a beloved symbol in North American culture. Did you know that if a bald eagle loses a feather on one wing, it will shed a feather on the other wing in order to keep its balance?

What does this species look like?

This regal bird is far from bald; it derives its name from the word "piebald," meaning patchy, in reference to the eagle's white head and dark brown body. Adult birds sport bright yellow legs and bills.

Where is this species found?

Bald eagles are distributed across North America and their current range covers approximately 2,500,000 square kilometres. They rely on areas close to lakes, rivers, marshes and coastal habitats. Much of Canada's bald eagle population lives in coastal British Columbia, with inland populations found in boreal forests across the country. They also require large trees for nesting. In wintertime, bald eagles can be found in parts of southern Canada, along bodies of water that do not freeze.

What is the species’ conservation status?

Bald eagle is currently not listed as an at-risk species and enjoys healthy populations throughout its range, but this was not always the case. Forty years ago, the species faced extinction as a result of habitat lost and unintentional DDT poisoning. Public education, habitat conservation and regulation all helped bald eagle populations recover. Today conservation groups and citizen science programs continue to monitor these impressive birds.

What is NCC doing to protect habitat for this species?

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is contributing to the overall protection of this species by securing and stewarding key bald eagle habitat.

Since the 1990s NCC was on the forefront of efforts to protect core habitat for largest recorded concentration of wintering bald eagles in North America. In the small community of Brackendale, British Columbia, just north of Vancouver, bald eagles congregate by the thousands from November to March to feast on the abundant salmon spawning in the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers. In partnership with the Cheakamus Centre, an outdoor environmental education centre, NCC placed a conservation covenant on the centre’s 420-acre (170-hectare) property along the Cheakamus River, ensuring protection of its old growth forest and salmon-rich riverfront in perpetuity.

NCC also participated in a local campaign to educate the public about how to respectfully view the eagles of Brackendale, which included the construction of a viewing shelter and interpretive signs. A highlight each year comes in January when the community gathers for the annual Eagle Count, a popular event dating back at least to 1986.

Protecting a core bald eagle habitat while also educating the public not only helps this iconic bird, but also benefits many other species and adds to the overall integrity of the ecosystem.

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