Bald Eagles

Nature Notes by Dr. Frank Lang

Consider traveling to the Klamath Basin in the winter months to see our national symbol, the bald eagle, at Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges. You will see the largest concentration of wintering eagles any place in the lower 48 states.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle by Larry Eifert

Many of the birds are from Canada, some from as far north as Northwest Territories, who migrate south to enjoy the warmth and comfort of the Klamath Basin in winter. It really is all relative, isn’t it?

The migrants start arriving in November and reach a peak of 500 birds in January and February. All but the four dozen nesting pairs that stay to raise families around the Upper Klamath Refuge and along the Williamson and Klamath Rivers are gone by late March or early April.

The eagles congregate here mainly to feast on waterfowl killed by natural causes. Sometimes eagles will take healthy birds, but the abundance of weak and dead birds is much easier and not as energy-intensive as active hunting.

Another feature of the area is the availability of good roosting sites around the basin. The five major roosting sites have four features in common: a close abundant and reliable food supply, freedom from human disturbance, old mature timber with strong branches to support the weight of many eagles with an open pattern to allow for ease of landing and departure, and a location on northeast-facing ridges to protect the roosting eagles from the prevailing chilly west and southwest wind.

Sometimes 300 birds will roost at a particular spot and then, in time, dwindle to just a few. It is important for human visitors not to disturb, in any way, the nighttime roosting spots, so stay away.

Instead, view the eagles on the ice from the self-guided auto tour routes on the Tule and Lower Klamath Refuges. Viewing is especially good when ice covers most of the water and waterfowl congregate in the open water and eagles, in turn, concentrate around the same areas waiting for an opportunity to eat.

To reach the area from Ashland take Oregon 66 east to Keno, then take the Worden cutoff to US 97, drive south to Stateline Road, turn east through the Lower Klamath Refuge toward Tule Lake. From Medford take Oregon 140 toward Klamath Falls, then turn south on US 97 to the Stateline Road turn-off.

A wording of warning. It is against federal law to possess eagle parts. You have them? You are guilty, unless you have a permit. Leave feathers on the bird or on the ground.

— Dr. Frank Lang


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