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

Ellis Ross (left), BC Liberal party, celebrated with his wife, Tracey after being named the preliminary winner of the 2020 snap provincial election. (Cameron Ehl photo)
Ross named preliminary winner of snap election

BC Liberals’ Ellis Ross named the re-elected MLA for Skeena riding

Voting has officially closed throughout B.C. for the 2020 snap provincial election. (Clare Rayment)
Map of Skeena polling stations

Watch the updates on the map below as polling stations are counted throughout Skeena riding

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

FILE – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets Premier John Horgan during a press conference at the BC Transit corporate office following an announcement about new investments to improve transit for citizens in the province while in Victoria on Thursday, July 18, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Trudeau congratulates Horgan on NDP’s election victory in British Columbia

Final count won’t be available for three weeks due to the record number of 525,000 ballots cast by mail

Comedic actor Seth Rogen, right, and business partner Evan Goldberg pose in this undated handout photo. When actor Seth Rogen was growing up and smoking cannabis in Vancouver, he recalls there was a constant cloud of shame around the substance that still lingers. Rogen is determined to change that. (Maarten de Boer ohoto)
Seth Rogen talks about fighting cannabis stigma, why pot should be as accepted as beer

‘I smoke weed all day and every day and have for 20 years’

Provincial Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau speaks at Provincial Green Party headquarters at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe in Victoria. (Arnold Lim / Black Press)
VIDEO: Furstenau leads BC Greens to win first riding outside of Vancouver Island

Sonia Furstenau became leader of BC Greens one week before snap election was called

NDP Leader John Horgan elbow bumps NDP candidate Coquitlam-Burke Mountain candidate Fin Donnelly following a seniors round table in Coquitlam, B.C., Tuesday, October 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, NDP head for majority in B.C. election results

Record number of mail-in ballots may shift results

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

The Canadian border is pictured at the Peace Arch Canada/USA border crossing in Surrey, B.C. Friday, March 20, 2020. More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March and fewer than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine while the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from quarantining. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Majority of international travellers since March deemed ‘essential’, avoid quarantine

As of Oct. 20, 3.5 million travellers had been deemed essential, and another 1.1 million were considered non-essential

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Most Read