BC Eagle Taking Flight
The coast of BC is the winter home for the bald eagle. On southern Vancouver Island, eagles arrive in the late fall to feast on the bountiful salmon and trout returning to their spawning grounds along the coastal rivers and streams. In this photo, a BC eagle leaves its tree-top perch in East Sooke, BC.
Just outside of Victoria, BC is the rural community of Sooke, BC. This residential community is located on the Sooke Basin, a sheltered ocean harbour that's home to many sea and land creatures.
Every fall, the salmon return to the Sooke Basin to spawn and die after their 4 or 5 years out at sea. They wait in the Sooke Basin until the water levels increase in the adjoining Sooke River and attract large numbers of bald eagles who feast on the recently deceased carcasses.
Eagles can be seen from mid-October to mid-February and stay within the forested vicinity of Sooke and East Sooke. The highest concentration of eagles can be seen from mid-December to mid-January.
The surrounding hills are covered in second-growth rainforest and are thick with Douglas Fir, Hemlock and arbutus trees. The towering trees are perfect vantage points for the eagles to wait for an easy meal.
As shown in the photo, eagles roost in the tall trees surrounding the water and stealthily dive when they see a fishing opportunity. Depending on the size of the eagle, they can snag a salmon up half of their own weight. Eagles will also scavenge on recently dead fish and will even steal food from other predators.
Viewing Eagles, Sooke, BC
A popular viewing area is along the waterfront of the Sooke Basin. The Galloping Goose Trail, which runs along the eastern shore, has excellent vantage points along the rugged shoreline. Westerly winds pick up in the afternoon so viewing is best early in the day.
The southern and western shore of the Sooke Basin is in the rural community of East Sooke and offers some of the best birdwatching in BC. Most of the waterfront is privately owned and filled with acreages. This photo was taken from an waterfront cottage on Vancouver Island which offered expansive views of the entire basin and front row seats to eagle hunting.
The bald eagle is one of the biggest raptors in the world. When the birds soar on the westerly winds over East Sooke Park, their wing span is more than 2 meters wide. They measure almost 76 cm tall and can weight as much as 7 kilograms (15 lbs).
The distinctive colors of the eagles are only achieved after 4 or 5 years. Males and females have the same plumage - a dark brown (almost black) body, a white head & tail and yellow beak, eyes and legs.
Adolescent birds are completely brown and may be confused for Turkey Vultures or Golden Eagles.
Eagles on Vancouver Island
The majestic BC eagle is the largest bird of prey in Canada and will kill other birds in their vicinity. As they move into the Sooke area in winter, other birds in the normally populous oceanfront will clear (except for mature geese and swans).
Herons will vacate while smaller birds will stay close to the protective cover of the thick rain forest. You can tell when an eagle is close by the absence of bird chatter.
The BC coast is home to most of Canada's breeding population of eagles but we have yet to come across one of their nests in the expansive East Sooke Park.
As the total number of bald eagles decreased as Europeans move west across North America, the population on the BC coast remained stabled and unthreatened.
Since the human population was small and the habitat so large & bountiful, the eagles in BC were not as vulnerable to the human disturbance as they were in the rest of Canada and the US.
The population did suffer decline in the 1940's as DDT was commonly used. The eagle population recovered once these chemicals were restricted in Canada and the US.
As long as their feeding source is available, their numbers continue to grow. However, it is estimated that only half of all hatchlings make to adulthood due to harsh winter conditions, illegal shooting and electrocution from power lines.
Local BC Habitat
East Sooke Park is an undiscovered jewel just outside of Victoria, BC. It's home to bears, cougars, eagles, vultures and hawks. Comfort Cove Cottage website.
Another good site to view BC Eagles is from the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary near Vancouver.
How to get to East Sooke, BC
View Sooke, BC in a larger map
East Sooke, BC is located about 33 kilometers (30 minutes) from downtown Victoria, BC.
In winter, it's hard not to spot a BC eagle along the shores of the Sooke Basin. Sooke, BC is a coastal oasis just outside of Victoria, BC that most visitors miss on their trip to the capital city. No matter what time of year you visit, there's plenty of things to do in BC.
Get more insider tips on Canadian Adventures at Scenic Travel Canada.