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

LETTER: I’m sorry, Surrey, for smelling like cigarettes all those years

If I could go back and tell my 13-year-old self to put down that cigarette, I would, reader says

‘A bag full of garbage every 15 metres’: Surrey industrial area filled with trash

Local workers looking to recruit business, raise funds to help dispose of litter

Survey suggests 83 per cent of Surreyites ‘favour a referendum’ on policing transition

Survey was conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights on behalf of the National Police Federation

Racist graffiti sparks Cloverdale man to renew calls for City to clean up street

Hate message the latest garbage dumped at the end of 176th Street

VIDEO: Behind the scenes of turning newspapers into digital archives

Kelowna Capital News donated materials dating from 1980 to 2000

Landlord ordered to pay $11K after harassing B.C. mom to move days after giving birth

Germaine Valdez was pressured to move just a few days after giving birth by C-section to her child

Heart attacks strike B.C. husband and wife just over one year apart

Courtenay couple share personal stories to bring awareness to heart month

‘Nothing surprises us anymore:’ U.S. border officials find brain in package

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents found the brain packed in a glass mason jar in a Canada Post shipment

VIDEO: Giants winning streak now stands at 11

Team erased a 5-2 deficit by scoring every five minutes

Fiery collision involving truck closes Highway 1 at Three Valley Gap

Drivers should expect major delays and congestion; estimated time of re-opening is 2 p.m.

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Eyes on police after Trudeau orders blockades torn down, injunctions enforced

The RCMP in B.C. have sent a letter to the traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation

B.C. massage therapist suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct

While suspended, Leonard Krekic is not entitled to practice as an RMT in B.C.

Most Read