Why some Calgarians are spotting more than 20 eagles a day

If you think you’ve been spotting more eagles around Calgary this winter, naturalist Brian Keating says you’re not alone — it’s been an 'exceptional' year for the bird of prey.

Some Calgarians spotting more than 20 eagles a day, naturalist Brian Keating says

Jim Springer shared this photo of a bald eagle taken in southwest Calgary's Carburn Park this spring. (Jim Springer)

If you think you've been spotting more bald eagles around Calgary this winter, naturalist Brian Keating says you're not alone — it's been an "exceptional" year for the bird of prey.

In fact, Keating told The Homestretch earlier this month that he has seen upward of a half-dozen bald eagles on any given walk this last winter, while some people have reported sightings of more than 20 a day.

While the increase is likely due in part to more people taking walks during the pandemic, he said another factor could be a surplus of the bald eagle's favourite cold-weather snack: ducks.

An immature Bald eagle, scouting for a duck meal in Calgary. (Brian Keating)

"This winter, there have been several locations in the city with open water and lots of ducks — more ducks than I've ever seen in the winter in Calgary," Keating said.

"Wherever there's an abundance of ducks, which are their favourite winter prey …  there's usually a bald eagle or two in attendance, watching over their buffet."

'Quite exciting'

The bald eagle is a solitary bird that made the U.S. endangered species list in 1973, after a combination of illegal hunting, habitat destruction, and the insecticide DDT knocked their numbers down, Keating said.

When he worked at the Calgary Zoo during the 1980s, Keating remembers veterinarians involved in animal rescue receiving several hundred birds of prey every year for treatment — many of which showed lead-shot pellets when X-rayed.

Waterfowl huddle on the Bow River in Calgary. (Brian Keating)

The hunting, he said, could have been spurred by naming conventions that diminished the importance of birds of prey; for example, the merlin falcon used to be called a pigeon hawk.

But in time, comprehensive outreach and education helped underscore their significance.

"We now know that these birds of prey are a necessary component of a healthy ecosystem, they reduce rodent numbers in a big way," Keating said.

An adult bald eagle collecting sticks from the forest along the Bow River. (Brian Keating)
The bald eagle made the U.S. endangered species list in 1973, but has since been removed from the list. (Brian Keating)

Since the days when the bald eagle was in trouble, Keating said education has helped the bird's numbers increase, and bald eagles were removed from the endangered species list in 2007.

So, how does it feel for the long-time naturalist — and former head of conservation outreach at the Calgary Zoo — to see them thriving near Calgary's open water, and nesting near of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary?

"It's quite exciting," Keating said.

  • Have a photo of a bald eagle to share? Email, or tag @CBCCalgary on Instagram, and we might feature your work on CBC Television, online, or CBC's social platforms.


​​​​​For more fascinating stories about Alberta's wildlife from naturalist Brian Keating, visit his website and check out these stories:

With files from The Homestretch


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