British Columbia

B.C.'s Brackendale bald eagle count lowest in 30-year history

A decade ago the Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count saw close to 4,000 birds, but in 2016 there were only 411.

Lack of salmon to blame for drop in numbers, say organizers

Eagle watch hits record lows

CBC News Vancouver Sunday

5 years ago
RAW 30th annual Brackendale eagle watch 0:49

A decade ago the Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count saw close to 4,000 birds, but in 2016 there were only 411.

"When there's no salmon here they will migrate, fly away to other places where there is salmon," said organizer Jim Gracey. "And if they really get hungry, they'll catch a rabbit, a cat, a small dog."  

Eagle counters look for birds to add to the annual tally in the Squamish River Valley near Brackendale B.C. (CBC)

On Sunday the count marked its 30th year to gauge the health of the bald eagle population in B.C. as hundreds of the birds converged on the Squamish River Valley to feed on chum salmon.

Volunteers, many passionate birders, spent hours in the cold, counting birds in hopes that this year's numbers would show improvement.

"But lately it's been less and less, mainly because of pressures on the salmon," said Gracey.

Eagle count organizer Jim Gracey says low salmon returns and icy rivers are behind the low number of bald eagles in Brackendale B.C. in 2016. (CBC)

Chum salmon make their way up rivers in the area every November to spawn and die, providing winter food for the birds.

In the past, Brackendale has been known as the "World Eagle Capital" for the number of birds that have gathered in one spot at one time.

Experts say global warming, commercial fisheries, and diseases all have an impact on the salmon and their survival rates.

Gracey is also blaming frozen waterways, due to cold temperatures, for keeping eagles away in 2016.

With files from Meera Bains


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