“Above all other birds it is the soaring eagle, with its size and weight, that gives the most abiding impression of power and purpose in the air.” — Edwin Way Teale, Atlantic Monthly (1957)
The Pacific Northwest is a remarkable landscape for outdoor and wildlife enthusiasts of all ages. But nestled between the lush, green landscape of Washington state and the majestic rural wilderness of Montana, Idaho is often overlooked as a picturesque region abundant with natural beauty in every form. 80 rugged mountain ranges, sprawling valleys, towering forests, and more waterway miles than any other state in the country together create a diverse oasis that is home to thousands of wildlife species–along with a vast network of trails from which to see them in their natural habitat.
Unique to North America and revered for their majestic appearance, size, and strength, the bald eagle became the United States’ treasured symbol of patriotism back in 1782. These magnificent birds were once endangered in each of the lower 48 states, coming dangerously close to extinction until just recently. Today, primarily because of its many large and open waters, northern Idaho has become an eagle-watching mecca, with the most breathtaking spectacle of all taking place in scenic Coeur d’Alene.
CDA is a beloved Idaho gem best known for the 55 lakes in and around the city and for its stunning natural beauty. As consistent as the calendar, it’s during the idyllic, snowy season of late November and December that the skies around Lake Coeur d’Alene fill with hundreds of majestic bald eagles in an incredible showcase of our nation’s rarest symbol. Majestic, inspiring, and simply unreal, the opportunity to witness these incredible birds of prey soar overhead or swoop down to snatch a fresh meal out of the water is already an unforgettable experience, but one that Idahoans are blessed to witness firsthand since the Gem State is a winter nesting ground for these magnificent birds.
Fortunately, this incredible phenomenon is more than just that; it also makes the perfect family day trip.
While all of Idaho’s panhandle sees an increase in eagle sightings during the winter, CDA’s namesake lake is the only place where spawning Kokanee salmon gather by the thousands along the gravel shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, making the region a prime wintering spot for the birds. Out in the wild, spawning Kokanee salmon are a rare feast for bald eagles, and hundreds of these majestic creatures flock the city’s scenic waterfront to enjoy the fresh menu in a remarkable display of strength and agility.
Fortunately, visitors to the area also have the opportunity to witness the sight firsthand. One of the best spots to view the eagles is at Wolf Lodge Bay, seven miles southeast of Coeur d’Alene, but multiple areas surrounding the bay also offer superb views: Higgins Point, the Mineral Ridge boat ramp on the southeast shore, and the Mineral Ridge trailhead on the mid-east shore of Beauty Bay, which flows into Wolf Lodge Bay.
Another epic way to witness Idaho’s most fantastic winter spectacle is to take an eagle-watching cruise on the lake to see the eagles congregate at the water’s north end. It’s the perfect opportunity to see these magnificent birds in the wild from the comfort of a cruise boat!
Getting Bigger Every Year
The Bureau of Land Management conducts a weekly count of the eagles to track migration and nesting patterns, and numbers have been steadily climbing in recent years thanks to conservation efforts and careful observer practices. A record 273 were counted in 2011, up from 90 or so back in 2003.
To avoid disturbing these magnificent birds, the BLM asks that viewers use binoculars or spotting scopes to avoid frightening the eagles, and to remain in a vehicle whenever possible so as not to pose a threat. Always remember to watch each bird’s body language carefully; if you are too close, it will appear uneasy. Remain quiet and move slowly. We want these majestic creatures to continue coming back to Idaho year after year!
But whether or not you have the opportunity to capture that elusive photo of a majestic bald eagle mid-flight, Idaho is brimming with places to catch a glimpse of these glorious creatures and their other feathered friends. Be sure to check out the Idaho Birding Trail for outstanding details on where to see eagles during the rest of the year. Or, for other incredible wildlife viewing areas, the Idaho Fish & Game website has a comprehensive list of management and conservation areas perfect for family outings, wildlife photography, and educational trips.
Now, grab a thermos full of hot chocolate and make a day of viewing this magnificent bird and national symbol– a sight that few in the country have an opportunity to view at such a close range!
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