Volunteers see increase in bald eagles at Brackendale, B.C., defying 10-year decline

Volunteers in Brackendale, B.C., counted an additional 250 bald eagles during an annual census of the birds this year, countering 10-year lows in their numbers.

Organizers say they're hopeful the increase is a sign of better things to come

Organizers of the Brackendale Eagle Festival say the number of bald eagles in the region peaked in 1994. (Vanessa Isnardy/Squamish Environment Society)

Volunteers in Brackendale, B.C., counted an additional 287 bald eagles during an annual census of the birds this year, countering 10-year lows in their numbers.

The Howe Sound community south of Whistler has one of North America's largest concentration of wintering bald eagles, which feed off of salmon in the nearby Squamish River.

The total this year was 969 — the highest number of eagles since 2014.

In 2016, the eagle numbers were the lowest they have been in the 32-year history of the count. Organizers blamed the lack of salmon for the drop in numbers. 

Still, organizers warn that the count isn't a scientific process. They say the approximately 60 volunteers can be hampered by various factors, including poor weather conditions. 

Vanessa Isnardy, the director and volunteer coordinator for the Squamish Environmental Society, said this year that cloudy conditions may have helped the count because it kept the eagles closer to the ground and thus more visible.

Despite potential methodology flaws due to changes in conditions, organizers say they're hopeful the increase is a good sign. 

Because the eagle count is so tied to the salmon run, they say it's indicative not only of what's happening in the skies but also of conditions in the region's rivers. 

Isnardy said the eagle count peaked in 1994 when a total of 3,769 birds were observed. But, for the most part, in the past 10 years numbers have remained below 1,000. 

People come from all over the world to see the birds as part of the annual Brackendale Eagle Festival. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the lowest count of eagles took place. In fact, it was in 2016. A previous version of this story said Vanessa Isnardy worked for WildSafeBC. In fact, she now works for the Squamish Environment Society.
    Jan 08, 2018 12:11 PM PT