Bald Eagles over Portland

By Ted Hinds of Portland, Oregon who describes himself as a "local activist and conservationist."

It was a lazy, late summer's afternoon last year as I was sitting on my patio that I saw it. Gracefully it cruised not more than 50 feet above the roof tops of my inner Portland neighborhood. I was astonished.

It was an eagle.

No, not the type of eagle that nests in hangers at the Oregon Air National Guard, and not just any eagle. It was a Bald Eagle, our national symbol and the apex predator of the American skies.

Having first landed in Oregon myself in 1974, a year after Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, I can remember when Bald Eagle sightings were quite rare. Pesticides and mercury levels in the water had decimated the Bald Eagle population south of Alaska and British Columbia, where most of the great birds are still found. In the 1970s and 1980s, the locations of Bald Eagle nests were treated as privileged information among outdoorsmen in Oregon, almost like a secret fishing hole or camping site.

Today it's not unusual to spot Bald Eagles in state parks or from rural highways, with clusters of amazed tourists pointing to them, but to see one flying over the inner city of Portland truly underscores the success of conservation efforts.


The frequency with which one might encounter the majestic Bald Eagle these days is no coincidence. The Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, which is based out of Oregon State University, has been tracking the recovery of Bald Eagle populations in Oregon and the Columbia River recovery zone in Washington for 29 years as part of a 30 year survey program. The most recently published summary of this research, reflecting 2005 data, reports that Bald Eagle nests can now be found in 33 of Oregon's 36 counties. The estimated number of occupied nests in Oregon has increased from less than 100 in 1978 to well over 400 in 2005. Annual recovery rates between 1995 and 2004 averaged a 6.9% net increase.

In an era dominated by controversy over global warming and the struggle of species to survive the industrialization of man, the recovery of the bald eagle is a refreshing success story. Bald Eagle populations have recovered throughout the United States, thanks to the Endangered Species Act and the efforts of conservation groups. The story of the bald eagle recovery is also an excellent opportunity to advance the cause of environmental protection politically. The contemporary Republican Party, despite its zeal for environmental deregulation and opening public lands to resource extraction, has long tried to associate itself with all symbols Americana. The Bald Eagle is no exception.

Yet without the Endangered Species Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Nixon, the only Bald Eagles left south of Canada might be in zoos. Instead, the Bald Eagle is soaring over the lower 48 states with healthy populations from Oregon to Maine, Illinois to Texas. It's time for Democrats, Greens, and environmentally concerned citizens everywhere to proudly claim the Bald Eagle as a symbol of success for the environmental movement and the cause for preserving America's wildlife for future generations.

  • Jeff (unverified)

    For the last 3 or 4 summers we have had a pair of buzzards, with red head and all, flying by our house at the foothills above Goose Hollow. They fly by my home right at eye level. They are so big and beatiful in flight. On the ground is a different story. I will be on the lookout for the eagle now. Thanks for the post!

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    I always love it when I get the chance to see a bald eagle.

    Not too long after we moved here, we were driving to my sister-in-law's house for a family event. We were headed up 182nd near Burnside when we saw a bald eagle fly over. It was the first time I'd ever seen one in the wild, and I was amazed.

    Since then I've seen them numerous times, most recently while heading back to Gresham from Astoria a few weeks back.

    They're also one of my favorite animals to visit in the zoo (after my absolute favorite, penguins, of course). We never miss the bird show because it's just amazing to have them fly right over your head. Andy almost got hit in the back of the head by one. He didn't listen when I told him "duck!" Apparently he thought it was another animal trick on the stage (like the rats), and he looked there instead of ducking.

  • Randy2 (unverified)

    Several years ago a nest across the river from Macadam (perhaps Ross Island?) was pointed out to me.

    This year I've had a couple of sightings -- one on Marine Drive just west of the airport and one over my North Portland neighborhood.

    Thanks for the article.


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    There was one soaring in the general vicinity of the eastern side of Pill Hill the other day.

    And then today there were what I'm fairly certain were Cooper's Hawks (I have pictures of this, but didn't have my camera the other day when the bald was there), anywhere from 5 to 8 of them in the air at the same time.

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    Speaking of large birds, is that an osprey nest down along I-205 near Gladstone? It's up on a tower (cell phone tower, I think).

    It's pretty large and hard to miss if you're headed north.

  • mconley (unverified)

    We even have them down here in Salem. I've seen them on the Willamette in the morning. Incredible.

  • Sean (unverified)

    Last Friday I was walking along the Columbia Slew's bike path near PIR. On my right, motorcross! On my left, a bald eagle, osprey and red tailed hawk jockying for a prime fishing spot.

    I've lived in Portland all my life (30 years), I don't remember seeing a bald eagle until my twenties, and now it is almost common place.

    It certainly is a treat to see policy in action.

    Imagine if we'd only had a few years to prove the ESA worked?

    These incredible birds are a terrific example of the long-term benefits to common sense solutions....perhaps some folks in Salem are paying attention.

    I doubt it.

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    Twenty-five years ago, when I was working for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, we captured four pairs of bald eagles and transplanted them to the Adirondacks. Last summer, driving up the Hudson River valley just north of Poughkeepsie, I see an eagle fishing the river. I have to say that my heart skipped a beat because in all likelihood it was the offspring of one of the transplanted pairs, since there were no nesting pairs left in New York prior to the transplant. It was a very special moment for me.

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    There's a nesting pair of bald eagles that towers high above what passes for nature here in the Everglades: the Lee Trevino-designed Mustang golf course (par 72!). It never gets old.

    So if one of the least environmentally-conscious places I've ever known has bald eagles, in Portland they ought to outnumber the pigeons.

  • zilfondel (unverified)

    ^ Actually, we're hoping that they will eat all of our pigeons... or at least the two lovey-dovey ones that are roosting above my window.

  • Luke (unverified)

    A few weeks ago a raptor of some kind (I'm guessing a Red-Tailed Hawk) attacked a few young pheasants I've been raising to release into a field behind my house. The amazing part is this happened right in front of me. When I rushed in to defend my little pheasants this bird wasn't in a hurry to leave, and I was within about 1 yard of it before it took off. He had already killed a pheasant though. Was such a bummer. I figured they'd be safe with me right there.

    Yesterday it came back but was thwarted by a young and reckless banty rooster. It was quite a David and Goliath moment.

  • krothi (unverified)

    I saw a baldie while riding the Ferris Wheel at Oak's Park this spring. It was just hanging out in Oak's Bottom. Unbelievable. I just can't seem to impress on my kids (aged 4 and 6) how amazing it is to see them, because in their short lives they've seen bald eagles practically every time we go camping! My oldest, even got to see a pair mating a couple of years ago, falling and tumbling with locked talons until the last moment before they hit the water and then breaking apart and flying off to chase each other some more.

    And it's not just the Eagles... but Osprey, Fox, Cougar & Bobcat too... creatures I never saw camping as a child (our family camped a lot) are now relatively easy to spot in natural areas. They say in the city of Portland that you are never more than 5 feet away from a rat. Not sure if I believe it, but I'm ALL in favor of having more predators around!

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