The American Bald Eagle Festival kicked off in Haines Monday. As visitors come to town for the week-long event, eagles are turning out in numbers that haven’t been recorded in years.
“It’s really impressive just how many birds are coming out,” says Chloe Goodson, Education and Outreach Coordinator at the American Bald Eagle Foundation.
“It hasn’t broken 1,000 since the year 2011,” says Goodson. “It hasn’t broken 2,000 since the year 2000.”
Last week, they counted just over 2,000 eagles in the area. The birds are tallied at the Chilkat, Chilkoot and Klehini Rivers and the most recent weekly count was 1,659. These are big increases from last year, when the most eagles counted in one week was 544.
Goodson says there are a number of reasons the Haines area could be seeing more birds this year, including the weather and available fish. Typically, eagles head to the Chilkat River for a late salmon run.
But despite the high eagle numbers, festival attendance is down this year at 152. Eagle Foundation Executive Director Cheryl McRoberts says it’s around 50 fewer attendants then last year.
“But we had a lot of people show up this morning that did not have reservations that just walked in the door so I’m hoping that’s the trend,” says McRoberts.
McRoberts says she’s pleased with the number of restaurants that are open this year, giving visitors a place to eat, which she says has not always been the case in the past.
“This is amazing, I’m very grateful,” says McRoberts.
There are several new events on the schedule this year. One of them is called Avian Art on Feathers.
“Turkey feathers because of course you can’t paint on a real eagle feather,” says McRoberts. “Carol Clifton is going to be giving the class and she’s going to be showing you how to paint eagles on feathers.”
They’re also hosting an eagle trivia night. But the events are not all about eagles.
“Shannon Donahue is going to be coming and talking about how humans and polar bears interact up in Churchill,” says McRoberts.
There will also be talks about harbor seals and dragonflies. Master carver Wayne Price will be performing with the Chilkat Dancers and bringing along a 16-foot dugout canoe he’s working on.
On Saturday, the final day of the festival, three rehabilitated eagles from Anchorage will be released into the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve following a Tlingit ceremonial presentation.
“What’s unique this year is we have a set of twins,” says McRoberts. “Juveniles who grew up together and they never leave each other’s side.”
Locals are invited to join in the festivities. Most events are $7.00 with a local ID.
Find a full schedule of events here.