d'ALENE, ID -- Roger Szelmeczka hooked a nice kokanee salmon and tossed it into a red bucket on the dock at Higgens
Perched in an old snag high up a steep ridge nearby, a bald eagle thought about breakfast.
"I've had them sitting on the bank, watching us," said Szelmeczka, a Tri-Cities resident. "We throw
a fish out, they just look at it like they're too proud to take it."
Thirteen bald eagles returned to Wolf Lodge Bay this week. That's the largest number of eagles this early in the
season since official counts started 27 years ago.
Every winter, the eagles return to shallow waters in North Idaho to gorge on spawned-out kokanee.
More and more seem drawn to Higgens Point, a popular fishing spot at the end of the Centennial Trail on the east
shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Anglers and dog-walkers often spot the winter visitors. But some bird-watchers say the human traffic poses a conflict
for the birds.
"It's becoming a favorite spot for the birds, but the traffic makes them fly away," said Kris Buchler,
president of the Coeur d'Alene chapter of the Audubon Society. "The more they are disturbed and have to fly,
the more they have to eat to keep up their energy."
Buchler, who noticed eagles leaving their perches during an eagle-watching cruise last year, is considering asking
officials to close the point during peak eagle season.
Eagles are finicky, biologists say.
Some stay glued to tree branches and apparently unruffled even as people pass just a few feet away. Others take
flight at a distant dog bark.
Eagle-watching cruises on Lake Coeur d'Alene avoid getting too close to shore and disturbing the birds.
People on the lakeshore trail or using the boat launch can take similar precautions in winter: Keep voices low
and keep your distance.
"If you get to the point where they're screeching at you, you're way too close and you need to get back,"
said Dave Spicer, a state wildlife biologist based in St. Maries.
Nobody is saying that bald eagles in North Idaho are in trouble. The eagles are thriving here, mirroring a general
trend around the country.
Bald eagles are protected by the Endangered Species Act. In the mid-1800s, hunters decimated eagle prey and farmers
killed the birds. The pesticide DDT either sickened adults or softened eggshells so the weight of the bird during
incubation crushed them.
In 1963, there were only a little more than 400 nests nationwide.
Today, the birds are healthy enough that they were downgraded from endangered to threatened status in the continental
In Idaho's five northern counties, the number of eagle nests has boomed in the last decade.
Spicer counted 31 active bald eagle nests this year in the Panhandle. Of those, chicks hatched in 27. Ten years
ago, biologists counted five or six active nests.
Development is the biggest threat facing the birds here.
"You've got somebody putting up a summer cabin, putting up an RV," the state biologist said. "Some
bald eagles don't care, but some will flat leave that area, or go to an area that's not as good."
The birds don't just eat fish. Bald eagles hunt ducks and feed on carrion such as winter-killed deer and elk.
Young eagles -- called eaglets -- don't usually leave the nest until summer. A few weeks before they fledge, the
eaglets can be spotted standing on the edge of the nest cup, or on branches nearby, flapping their wings. Practicing.
"We're so lucky to have this so close by," said Buchler.
Talks, exhibits mark eagle watch week
The 10th annual Coeur d'Alene Eagle Watch Week is from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 at the Wolf Lodge Bay wildlife viewing
area at the Mineral Ridge Boat Launch. Volunteers and wildlife biologists will present eagle talks and eagle exhibits.
To get there, take the Wolf Lodge exit off Interstate 90. Turn right and follow state Highway 97 to the BLM Boat
Launch and Mineral Ridge Trailhead. For more information, contact Scott Robinson at (208) 769-5000.
Bald eagles start arriving from Canada in early November as kokanee spawning starts. The birds flock to Wolf Lodge
Bay, Lake Pend Oreille, the Kootenai River and the chain lakes of the Coeur d'Alene River. Their numbers peak around
the end of December. They leave when local waterways get icebound, heading to the open waters of Montana's Flathead
Lake or the Klamath Basin in Oregon.
To monitor the Wolf Lodge Bay eagle count, go to
Coeur d'Alene Eagle Watch