Observe the majestic convocation of hundreds of eagles thriving in their natural habitat
It's a remarkable sight - hundreds of birds sitting in the bare trees lining the river, often six or more birds to a branch. Every portion of this preserve is used by eagles at some time during the year, and through the months of October to February, more than 3000 eagles congregate here to feed on spawning chum salmon.
The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve was created in 1982 when the state reserved 48,000 acres along the Chilkat, Klehini and Tsirku Rivers to protect the largest known gathering of bald eagles in the world. It also sustains and protects the natural salmon runs and allows for traditional uses; provided such uses do not adversely affect preserve resources.
The river "flats" of the Chilkat River along the Haines Highway between miles 18 and 24 are the main viewing area for eagle watchers and considered critical habitat in the preserve. Bald eagles are attracted to the area by the availability of spawned-out salmon and open waters in late fall and winter.
Even during the summer the preserve is one of the best places to see an eagle in Southeast Alaska. The Chilkat Valley is the year-round home for between 200 and 400 eagles and more than 80 eagle nests have been observed in the preserve itself. By the time the fall migration begins in October, the resident eagles are through raising their young but immature eagles will often stay nearby for a year or more.
Five species of salmon spawn in these and other nearby streams and tributaries. The salmon runs begin in the summer and continue on through late fall or early winter. The salmon die shortly after spawning and it is their carcasses which provide large quantities of food for the eagles. This combination of open water and large amounts of food bring large concentrations of eagles into the Chilkat Valley beginning by early October and lasting through February.
The best time to be in Haines for the fall migration is the second week of November when the town stages its Alaska Bald Eagle Festival. The event attracts hundreds of visitors from around the country to Haines for five days of speakers, presentations and special exhibits at the Sheldon Museum and the American Bald Eagle Foundation Center. The most popular activity at the festival is trooping out to the Chilkat River on 'expedition buses' with noted naturalists onboard and viewing more eagles than anywhere else in the country at anytime of the year.