On The Water, Puyallup Tribe Surveys Bald Eagles

ORTING (December 6, 2004) – More bald eagles are calling the Puyallup River watershed home, and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians wants more to come south every year. “It seems that there are more bald eagles using the Puyallup as a winter home than the last time surveys were done regularly,” said Barbara Moeller, wildlife biologist with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians.

Last winter Moeller conducted the first comprehensive survey of bald eagles along the Puyallup River in more than a decade. Moeller will conduct a second survey this winter, in addition to spot checks on specific roosting sites. “On just one float down the Puyallup, we saw as many as 60 eagles.” During earlier surveys on the Puyallup River in the 1980s, counts ranged from a low of three to upwards of 20.

In addition to keeping tabs on their numbers, the tribe also gives the eagles an incentive to make the Puyallup River their winter home by distributing up to 10,000 chum carcasses in the upper watershed. “We’ve seen up to 40 bald eagles just in the area around where we put the carcasses in to the river,” said Blake Smith, enhancement manager for the Puyallup Tribe.

“Because eagles feed primarily on salmon carcasses during the winter, the success of the salmon play a large role in the success of the eagles,” said Moeller. “The tribe distributing carcasses from their hatchery is very important in terms of bringing back the eagles.”

“Bald eagles start coming south to the Puyallup at pretty much the same time salmon runs are peaking,” said Moeller. “When the weather starts getting too cold in Alaska and British Columbia and the salmon start running here, bald eagles start moving south.”

“This basic data collection helps ensure bald eagles can continue to be protected,” said Moeller. Since the banning of the pesticide DDT in the 1970s, bald eagles populations have been increasing nationwide. After changing their status from “endangered” to “threatened” in 1995, the federal government recently petitioned to remove the bald eagle from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Moeller plans to expand the eagle survey by identifying and mapping night roosting areas within the Puyallup River watershed. She would like to update nesting locations in the system as well. “Even though more bald eagles have been coming back here, they still face pressure from development,” she said. “Most of the development in the Puyallup watershed is near the river, the same place bald eagles nest, feed and roost. By mapping where bald eagles live, we can protect them more effectively.”

Winter habitat is vital to the life history of bald eagles because most build nests and mate during the winter months. “Where bald eagles spend their winters is crucial to the rest of their lives,” said Moeller. “Without protected, isolated areas around the river to build nests, roost, and feed, bald eagles might not continue to successfully reproduce, resulting in fewer eagles returning along the Puyallup.”


For more information, contact: Barbara Moeller, wildlife biologist, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, (253) 573-7993, [email protected] Emmett O’Connell, information officer, NWIFC, (360) 438-1181, ext 304, [email protected]

Photos Available: Photos of Puyallup tribal staff on Bald Eagle survey. Jpeg format, high quality, can be emailed. Contact Emmett O’Connell at above number.

Bald Eagle Fast Facts

  • Scientific name: Haliaeetus leucocephalus, which means “white-headed sea eagle.”
  • Bald eagles are one of the largest birds of prey in the world with a 6.5 to 8-foot wing span. Bald eagles can be 3 to 3.5-feet long and weigh up to 15 pounds.
  • The distinctive white head and tail marks a mature eagle at least four to five years old. Younger individuals vary from solid dark brown to a generally mottled brown and white plumage.
  • Fish compose 60 to 90 percent of the bald eagle’s diet.
  • Bald eagles usually build nests in the tops of giant trees. A nest is enlarged annually and can become the largest of any North American bird. The largest nest ever recorded was 20 feet deep, 10 feet wide, and weighed two tons.
  • Bald eagles have lived 50 years in captivity, and in the wild may live up to 30 years.
  • Bald eagles formerly lived throughout North America, but now breed mainly in Canada and adjacent states and Florida